Dogs Can Detect Seizures Before They Happen, Trainer Says

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Photo: dulebohn seizure dogs dog
Dog trainer Jeremy Dulebohn.

An Aspen woman who has epilepsy says a homeowner's association discriminated against her because of her service dog. Nathasha MacArthur filed a federal lawsuit alleging fair housing discrimination.

The dog, recommended by MacArthur's doctor, is trained to respond to her seizures, including alerting her before they happen, according to the suit. MacArthur claims that her homeowner's association asked intrusive questions about her condition and wanted her golden retriever, named Stevie Nicks, to wear a harness that would have essentially advertised her disability. The HOA allegedly sent a letter saying the dog couldn't relieve itself or "be a nuisance." MacArthur eventually moved out.

A contact for the homeowners association denied the allegations, but declined an interview, citing the ongoing legal battle.

MacArthur is one of many people who rely on dogs to help them live better with epilepsy. The national nonprofit Epilepsy Foundation says public interest has fueled demand for so-called "seizure dogs," which may respond to and/or detect seizures, though the foundation is skeptical about the dogs' ability for detection.

"Any claims by trainers that they can produce this type of behavior in a dog should be looked at very carefully, especially when the training is expensive. While some people report success, others have been disappointed," the foundation's website states. "More research is needed to better understand what dogs can and cannot do, whether there are differences between breeds, and how best to develop this unique skill."

Still, several organizations now train dogs for people suffering from epileptic seizures. Among them, the Ohio-based 4 Paws For Ability nonprofit, which places dozens of seizure dogs with families each year around the world, including in Colorado. Dogs are paired with children who have seizures and alert the parents before a seizure, training director Jeremy Dulebohn says. He spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.