Saturday, March 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Woman with seizures relies on dog

Leader staff writer

Officers of the Arkansas Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star were at the Jacksonville chapter at the Jacinto Masonic Temple on Marshall Road last week to induct Lorrie Thiel of the South Bend community into the Eastern Star.

Easter Star helps raise money for service dog programs and provides medical insurance for service dogs.

Thiel, who has as many as two epileptic seizures a week, was accompanied by Galahad, her seizure-alert dog.

Thiel began having lower- body seizures after a car wreck in 1989 and progressed to full epileptic seizures in 2008.

Thiel was given her first seizure-alert dog, Schultzy, in 2005. Schultzy picked out Galahad, Thiel’s second service dog, from a litter of puppies. Schultzy helped Thiel train Galahad for a year until Schultzy developed cancer and had to be put down.

Thiel had Galahad for three years and said he’s given her a second lease on life.

“Five minutes before I have a seizure, Galahad mumbles and pulls on my clothes. I’m able to sit down in a safe spot, so I don’t fall down,” she said.

Galahad wears a backpack carrying medication for Thiel’s seizures. If she’s having problems, Galahad will seek help.

“He’ll shake for you to hear the pills rattle and he’ll rub the backpack against you, so you can feel the bottles,” Thiel said.

Galahad can also detect when other people are going to have seizures.

Thiel’s car accident also damaged her nerves and discs in her lower spine. She has difficulty bending down. Galahad helps by picking items up off the floor or will carry things from across the room to her.

“He is my knight in shining armor. I was 40 years old and I had two teenage boys. I was in a wheelchair taking so much medicine, I didn’t know what I was watching on TV. It was colorful,” Thiel said.

Thiel said she didn’t remember conversations with people after she spoke with them.

“That’s not living, that’s surviving. My dog allows me to have an independent life,” she said.

Thiel’s dog is with her at all the time. Galahad goes to restaurants, doctor offices, grocery store and rides with Thiel in the ambulance.

Galahad’s name is from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

To repay her gratitude, Thiel trains seizure-alert service dogs for free. She said seizure-alert dogs cost around from $15,000 to $40,000. Insurance will not pay for them. She works with all types of dogs rescued from animal shelters.

“Why not give them to someone who will love, care and treat them as someone who needs to be spoiled,” Thiel said.

She is currently training a golden retriever lab mix to become a service dog for someone with a disability.

Thiel said a 20-minute trip to Walmart takes two hours. People come up and ask her about Galahad, and she tells them about service dogs.

“I don’t mind answering questions,” she said.

Thiel is on the board of directors for the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, an advocacy group.

“If people see a service dog, always ask before petting it. Seeing-eye and hearing-ear dogs should not be petted. Not everyone wants their service dog petted. It’s like someone putting their fingers in your eyes or ears. I don’t mind my dog being petted, but ask first,” Thiel said.

If you have questions about service dogs, you can send e-mail Thiel at