Irish, a six-year-old golden retriever, is man’s best friend in more ways than one.
For 11-year-old Suzy, he’s her connection to the world.
Suzy is non-verbal. She has epilepsy and autism. Irish is her service dog and through a language of his own, speaks for her.
“For me, it’s my journey to help her out,” said Suzy’s mother Jaime Arredondo. “As parents, it’s what can we give her to help her succeed?”
Suzy didn’t have many friends growing up. It’s tough for little kids to understand Suzy’s situation. Then Irish came along.
“We fundraised for about 10 months to get (Irish),” Arredondo said. “Then we had to do dog training and we had to pass a test as a family.”
Then, everyday tasks started to become a little bit easier, including school. Irish was the first service dog admitted to Tempe Elementary Schools.
“He goes to school with her every day,” Arredondo said. “Kids want to sit by her now, because she has a dog.”
Suzy has even learned to socialize with her classmates at Broadmor Elementary because of Irish. They have to ask for her permission before they can pet Irish.
“It gives her an identity and she can have friends,” Arredondo said. “People can relate to her and talk to her. It’s really been a blessing.”
Not only is Irish a social icebreaker, he’s on constant alert for Suzy’s medical concerns. Irish is now trained to detect when Suzy is about to have a seizure.
“What Irish learned is her scent,” Arredondo said.
Once, after experiencing a seizure, Arredondo put the shirt Suzy wore during the episode in the freezer. The next day, the dog trainer came out and taught Irish to be on alert for that specific scent from the shirt. “When you are about to have a seizure, you give off a certain scent. So, he knows when something is about to happen. He goes over to us and will nod and walk over to her to,” she said.
According to Service Dog Central, 15 percent of dogs are naturally able to predict seizures before they occur.
On average, a service dog can predict a seizure 10-20 minutes before the seizure occurs. It gives the person with the seizure disorder an opportunity to move to a safe place, take medication, call for help, or notify friends or family.
“Dogs are amazing,” Arredondo said.
Not only does Irish do much to help Suzy and her family, he also helps the community
understand Suzy’s condition.
“If you just look at Suzy you might think she’s fine,” Arredondo said. “She doesn’t have the Down syndrome features or the typical features that make you think she’s disabled. So, with the dog, people don’t ask questions or look at her funny.”
Irish has been with the family for the last three years. He was bred at Arizona Goldens. Arredondo said they start training their furry students at an early age and know about 10 commands by the time they are 12 weeks old to 18 weeks old.
But at the end of the day, he is a typical dog for Suzy and her little brother, Bo, 7.
“Sometimes he gets in the garbage or eats our food,” Arredondo said. “We can take off his vest and he likes to play.”
“He’s just like a regular dog.”