SASKATOON – Georgia is a dog with a job. Even as she enjoys a thorough grooming and her organic diet, the black lab watches out for her 25-year-old handler, Nigel Fernandez.
Fernandez was diagnosed with a brain stem lesion at the age of five. He lived mostly symptom-free until he was 17, when he started having muscle spasms. Last year, he developed epilepsy.
He has one or two seizures every month.
“She can detect seizures when they come. She just acts a bit skittish and she barks to alert others that they’re happening,” Fernandez said.
Georgia can also open doors, hit emergency alert buttons and more.
With Georgia’s help, Fernandez lives on his own, has studied kinesiology and hopes to become a physical therapist.
Georgia, Fernandez and his mother Pam Kakakaway attended a Purple Day presentation Thursday at Royal University Hospital. Since 2008, Purple Day has raised awareness and dispelled myths about the disease that affects about one in 100 Canadians.
The Lions Foundation of Canada, which also trains Seeing Eye, Hearing Ear and other guide dogs, provides the dogs free of charge. It costs $25,000 to train and place a guide dog like Georgia.
“She’s an amazing asset, companion, friend to Nigel,” Kakakaway said.
In addition to identifying and alerting people to her handler’s seizures, she once saved him during a frigid winter day in Saskatoon.
Fernandez was taking the lab for a walk in Dundonald Park when his motorized scooter got stuck in an ice rut. The dog started barking and help came running.
“She has really helped him to become an independent person,” Kakakaway said.