When a grown man can finally celebrate being able to shop alone, rather than under the watchful eye of his wife, some type of special change has happened. That change for Ryan Braaten of Brainerd, MN, was Seizure Assist Dog Gallagher.
In 2011, while in the military, Ryan was deployed to Iraq, where he suffered permanent brain damage from a suicide vehicle attack. That injury causes him to experience seizures every day, zapping him of his energy and often, his safety. Married, with two young children and one on the way, Ryan explains the difficulty of the past couple years of his life. “Some days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.” He adds that if he could get out of bed, “I would get up, take medication and go straight to my couch. I would just watch everything happen around me. I could talk, but I couldn’t play, I couldn’t interact out of fear and necessity of not over-exerting myself.” On days when Ryan would do too much, his body would pay the consequences the next day. It was a vicious cycle, as he tried to understand his limits.
A New Energy-Saving Option
Recently matched with Gallagher, a Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever mix, Ryan now has help managing his seizures. Ryan’s primary goal for getting a service dog was to “try to be more independent from my wife and children. Gallagher has greatly helped with that. My wife doesn’t have to feel that she’s constantly having to watch me and the children simultaneously. Having [Gallagher who] is capable of helping me with just simple tasks—even just bending over to pick something up—has greatly improved.” Like an LED lightbulb, Gallagher now helps Ryan save energy, allowing for more quality family time.
Gallagher has definitely become part of the family. Ryan mentions how he was in the kitchen one day, when Gallagher appeared around the corner, accessorized in sunglasses and a bright, pink hat his 4-year-old daughter had bedazzled him with. Life is not all sunglasses and pink hats, though. The family also pulls together to address Ryan’s needs. If Ryan is seizing, his daughter has learned to work in tandem with Gallagher to prop up Ryan’s legs. Ryan’s 2-year-old son is more than willing to join Gallagher in snuggling with Dad later.
Gallagher also acts as Ryan’s emergency-alert button. During seizure episodes, Gallagher will elevate Ryan’s legs and apply pressure on his abdomen to get blood flowing back to his brain. If those corrective measures don’t help and the seizure persists, Gallagher finds Ryan’s wife and brings her to assist. The combined efforts can now prevent what could have previously meant possibly calling for an ambulance.
Ryan admits, “Gallagher has exceeded the expectations that I had.” He says, “Ultimately the biggest hurdle was understanding that not only was I training something that Gallagher needs to do, but training me to be a good partner with the dog.” Ryan also believes that it’s easy for people to have the illusion that service dogs are perfect. He states that Gallagher is “definitely much better than the dogs I’ve had experience with, but [he’s] still a dog”—one that continues to learn. For instance, one lesson they’ve mastered together is that food dropped on the floor by a toddler is not for consumption.
Grateful for the Generosity
Gallagher’s presence is not something Ryan takes lightly. “I know that Gallagher gives me the confidence that I can push myself enough that I’m able to interact with everybody but still be in a safe position,” he says. More so, he recognizes that sacrifices that were made to bring about this life change for him.
When asked to share his thoughts on what goes into training an assistance dog, he offers, “I just want to personally thank everyone for all the work that they’ve done. I could only imagine how hard it must be for the family who trained Gallagher in their home and then have him go away. I’m sure that is a bittersweet moment, knowing that he’s going to help someone, but losing that connection that you had in your house. I truly appreciate that. For people donating money, know that you’re donating to a fantastic cause. I can’t say enough good things about this entire process. It has been an amazing one. I always felt like I could reach out to someone and someone would contact me back when I needed help. To have such a smooth and rewarding experience working through your program, I cannot explain just how thankful I am that such an amazing organization exists.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: Hanna & Andrew Temme
Special Thanks: Sherry & Charles Fonseth-Lais, Patti & Rick Dougherty,
You: Thank you for your donations!