Maria: Hello Lorna. I have known you for some time now and, in that time, I have come to learn about your brave and stoic attitude towards facing your many daily challenges. You have multiple disabilities as well as having epilepsy.
Lorna: If it wasn’t for my children and my dogs, I don’t know how I would have kept going. I had a serious car accident 45 years ago and I lost my left arm, my spleen, and I had spinal damage. I sustained kidney failure and liver damage and I lost much of my eyesight. I had a serious brain injury which has caused me to have epilepsy. I know that there was talk of having my life support turned off at the time but my intensive care medicine specialist knew that I would survive. Sometimes, I felt guilty for surviving but I needed to keep going for my kids as there was talk of putting me in a home and having my children fostered out. I had to fight for us to stay together.
Maria: They were truly tough days for you but you recovered and, what is more, you trained horses and continued working on the farm.
Lorna: I would take horses that were destined for dog tucker or were considered too wild to tame and I would break them in kindly. One day a man saw me hopping on and off my horse with one arm and he said that I had changed his attitude to life. He became more positive. I would like to think that I have had that influence on people.
Maria: Please tell me how you started training your dogs as they have helped you with your epilepsy.
Lorna: My children left home and I needed more support and so I looked at getting a dog through an agency. Dogs have always helped me rounding up sheep on the farm and so I gathered that they could also learn to help me. It was at that stage that I got a computer and I learnt about guide dogs. But because of my multiple disabilities I couldn’t get a dog through the Blind Foundation or through Epilepsy Assist Dogs.
I have numerous seizure types from absence, focal, atonic, and tonic clonics and so I needed a dog to help me deal with all of those and with me being completely helpless when I was down struggling on the floor. Not every dog can be around people with epilepsy, as they would see it as a threat, but I have chosen my dogs well.
Tara was my very first dog. She was a pig dog, a pack animal who lived outside in the kennels. I had to toilet train her and she had to get used to living inside and sleeping on a dog bed without falling out. She was so clever and she quickly learnt what I wanted from her. She was terribly intellectual, so clever, and she would alert people that I was going to have a seizure before I knew myself. I had Tara for 16 years and then one day she decided that she didn’t want to work.
I then reached out to Assistance Dogs and I was given a dog but they broke my heart when they took her away. The trainers had no idea what I wanted from the dog and said that my needs were too complex. I then trained up Faith. She was a beautiful blue-grey colour and was a border collie-kelpie cross who worked as an eye dog, a huntaway, rounding up the stock. She would round them all up, from the hills, swamps, paddocks and put them where they needed to be and then she would come back and guide me. When I took her shopping, I would leave her outside the supermarket but she seemed to sense that I was about to have a seizure and she would come bounding in and lead me back to the car where I would then have a seizure. She too lived for about 16-17 years. She was loyal to me to the day she died.
Maria: Did it take you a long time to train your dogs?
Lorna: No. I have been around animals all of my life and so I know how clever they can be. People need to give animals more credit for what they can do.
After I retired Faith, I trained up another dog called Georgia, who I have now. She is probably not as good as Tara and Faith but she gives me the love and care that I need right now. She knows when I am about to have a seizure and she will gently push me back onto my bed or chair so that I am safe. She has terrific physical strength and she will manage to get me off the ground, if I have fallen. She will wiggle herself underneath me until I am able to get myself up. I won’t even need to give her a command to help me, she just does it.
Maria: I know that Georgia is getting quite old. Will you train up another dog?
Lorna: Do I train another dog? It is a hard life for a working dog as it is 24/7 but without a dog in my life, I will be very lost. I wouldn’t last very long and so I am looking at a puppy to train up. Someone else can do the puppy training and I will do the rest.
Maria: Thank you for this wonderful conversation about the dogs that you have trained to help you with your epilepsy. I know that your epilepsy has caused you problems over the years but your faithful dogs have provided you with the love and support when you have needed them.
I look forward to meeting your new dog. I knew Tara and Faith and I know Georgia. It will be wonderful to see another dog in your life.