Service dogs bring more than wellness to children

Children with epilepsy depend on medical treatments to help control their seizures. But the benefits of animal assistance can impact their lives far beyond functional support


At seven months old, Miriam Greenbaum started having epileptic seizures.

“In the beginning it was very hard, she was going into the hospital all the time, they had put her on a lot of anti-seizure medicines but they weren’t working so she was constantly having seizures,” Miriam’s mother, Leah Greenbaum told

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition that’s caused by abnormal activity in brain cells. Seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells in the brain send out the wrong signals.

“She would just stare and stiffen, sometimes she would shake uncontrollably, she always loses control of her body so she’ll drop on the floor and bang her head,” Greenbaum said.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 200,000 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed in American children each year.

"There are many ways to treat seizures, medications is one, there is also surgery, other patients can use diet," Dr. Blanca Vazquez, of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center of New York University Langone Medical Center told

To help manage her condition, Miriam underwent brain surgery and takes daily medications. Since her surgery the frequency of Miriam’s seizures have decreased, but Leah and her husband Baruch still worried about keeping her safe at all times.

“As a mother, you’re constantly on guard, you don’t sleep,” Greenbaum said. “We have a video intercom to watch her, but there’s no warning when she’s going to seizure.”

Determined to find another way to help their daughter, the Greenbaum’s enlisted the help of a four-legged friend, Uno.

Uno is a seizure assistance dog, and is specially trained to bark to alert others to a seizure. Miriam and her parents spent twelve days at the 4 Paws for Ability training camp to learn how to communicate with Uno.

“He was fully trained but they had to teach us all of his commands--everything from sit, down, under, if we go to a restaurant, under the table and bark, he's only supposed to bark when she has a seizure to alert us."

Uno was also trained in behavior disruption, an order that sends him to comfort Miriam.

"When Miriam is having a tantrum we do this nuzzle command, and he literally has gotten her out of a tantrums,” Greenbaum said. “And he’s actually helped her stay calm and makes transitions better- getting her to go to bed, getting her to leave a store, he’s just eased it all.”

Service dogs help keep children safe, but some experts say the impact of having a service dog can go beyond seizures and wellness.

"They can also be a huge component of structure; helping the dog with their routine, walking the dog, feeding the dog, responsibility, the motivation,” Vazquez said. “For some families, the dog can also be the companion when their sleeping, so they [parents] no longer have to be in the same room because they will now depend on the dog to alert them to a seizure.”

Miriam has not had any seizures since Uno joined their family, and Greenbaum said Uno has brought peace back into their home.

“I can actually go to sleep and I really have a different peace, like she’s being taken care of if something is going to happen,” Greenbaum said. “It’s been a less stressful life in our home-- he’s really made a difference to our whole household.”

To learn more about seizure assistance dogs, visit