If you happen to go into Green Primary School and see a dog walking around, don't panic. Green hasn't changed its enrollment policy nor has the school "gone to the dogs."
That dog is Taz, a 3-year old retriever trained as a special service dog. His job is to monitor the condition of his owner, first-grader Lily Secrest, who suffers from seizures. As her body chemistry starts to change with an oncoming seizure, Taz will pick up on it and alert Lily's teachers that there is a potential problem.
Taz is new to the school.
Taz and the members of Lily's family underwent 10 days of training through "4 Paws For Ability." During the 10-day period the family learned how to give certain commands and how to control their dogs. There was also practice in the local mall with Taz on a leash.
"The training was kind of intense," said Hollie Secrest, Lily's mother.
When a seizure does occur or appears as though it will occur, Taz alerts Lily's parents.
"Taz-y tells my mommy and daddy when I am having a seizure," Lily said. "He barks like this, "Ruff, ruff,' so that they know something is wrong."
Having Taz by Lily's side is especially important.
"Lily's seizures always occur at night when she is sleeping so we got Taz to help protect her. The seizures will happen within one and a half hours of her falling asleep. When they occur, she requires immediate medical attention. The paramedics in Green know us very well and they have always been great with Lily. Taz even gets to ride in the back of the ambulance with Lily while I have to ride up front."
When Taz is "working," he is all business.
At school, children were all read a story by the librarian, Kathy Lieb, about service dogs so they would know how to behave around him. They know that when he is wearing his vest or nose harness he is not to be bothered. And Taz is very good at ignoring all the commotion that is associated with elementary school children.
He rides to school on the bus with Lily and teacher Lisa Bowser takes Taz and Lily into the building. Taz stays with Lily all day with the exception of gym, recess, lunch, and assemblies.
"During those times the noise is too much for him," said Bowser, "so he comes back to my class to sleep."
The students are now so used to seeing Taz that he has almost become a fixture in the classroom that they ignore. He has a specific place where he lays that is close to Lily.
"Taz just likes to sleep in my class," said Marisa Rainier, Lily's first-grade teacher. "At first, the kids were all excited, but now they just accept him being there. If it gets a little noisy he will come up and crawl under my desk. It makes him feel safe from the noise."
Page 2 of 2 - While Taz's primary responsibility is Lily, he also has helped others in the building. One teacher was walking him and slipped and broke an ankle. Taz stood beside her so that she could use him to stand up. He has also helped other children who have had some sort of medical problem by alerting a teacher.
Of course, his whole existence revolves around Lily, who loves him. The outgoing little girl is not lost for words when she talks about "her" dog.
"All my friends really like Taz," Lily said. "He likes to ride on the bus with me. All my friends know that when he is working they cannot pet him. At home Taz plays with our other dog, Issis. Issis is a regular dog."
While service dogs like Taz are new in Green schools, dogs have for many years helped people with health conditions or physical problems. Dogs for the blind are probably the most recognized type but with their sense of smell, detecting other types of potentially serious medical problems is a new field that they are helping in.
As a result, more businesses and organizations are familiarizing with the need for service dogs.
"Taz normally goes everywhere with us," Hollie said. "Occasionally, someone tries to tell me that dogs are not allowed but when I explain what Taz does that normally takes care of any problems. And by law service dogs have to be allowed to accompany the individual they work with. If we have to fly Taz would be in the cabin at Lily's feet. At amusement parks like Cedar Point he can even go on certain rides. But I always weigh how hard it will be on him. We need to be aware of his welfare also."
Taz even has his own Facebook Page under "Taz Secrest". Lily has her own blog: "Fight For Lily's Future," Lily Fight.blogspot.com.