Golden Retriever Service Dog Is Trained to Snuggle His Owner's Seizures Away

Rosco can help activate his owner's VNS Therapy device when he has a seizure


For Derek Douglass, dogs and technology are working together to save his life.

The Purdue University graduate and employee has drug-resistant epilepsy, meaning he has to seek out treatments beyond medications.

“My epileptic seizures are called complex partial seizures. I space out, but still can do normal behaviors. I live alone in an apartment near a busy road,” the electronics technician told PEOPLE in an email. “My job entails working with small amounts of electricity and moving parts. While seizing, I have walked out of my doctor’s office to the bus stop. Because of all these circumstances, I felt I needed an extra line of defense.”

This is where Rosco comes in.

The 17-month-old golden retriever and epilepsy service dog is being trained to find new, cuddly ways to help Douglass manage his seizures.

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Currently, Douglass uses Vagus Nerve Stimulation (or VNS) Therapy to manage his seizures. For VNS Therapy, a small device is implanted under the skin of those with drug-resistant epilepsy. Once implanted, the device sends mild pulses to the brain through the vagus nerves. These pulses are sent throughout the day at regular intervals to stop seizures before they start. Unfortunately, seizures can still break through the regular intervals. If and when a breakthrough seizure occurs, the VNS Therapy device can be manually activated by holding a magnet over the device’s implant site. These extra pulses can disrupt and stop a breakthrough seizure.

Since Douglass lives alone in Lafayette, Indiana, and is not always capable of triggering the device himself during a breakthrough seizure, Rosco is learning to do it for him. Along with mastering standard training for a seizure alert dog, Rosco is also trained to snuggle Douglass’ seizures away. When Douglass experiences a breakthrough seizure, Rosco knows to activate Douglass’ VNS Therapy device by snuggling up to his owner’s chest. Once Rosco gets close, the magnet in the dog’s bandana activates the device implanted in Douglass’ chest, providing him with the comfort of his dog’s companionship and relief from his seizure.

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The pair has been together since Rosco graduated from his training at Northern Indiana Service Dogs on Aug. 26, 2017, and from that day Douglass’ life has been different.

“Rosco has changed my life by being there for me when I do have issues, as well as just being a friend any time of the day,” Douglass said on how his canine buddy gives him confidence and companionship.

“His just being beside me helps me to be happier,” he added.

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While Rosco is always ready to snuggle when Douglass needs help, he spends most of his time going on adventures with his owner. Rosco accompanies Douglass to work, where he has quickly become a favorite among Douglass’ coworkers, and loves to play fetch or watch wildlife whenever he has a free moment.

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The “warm, pleasant” canine is also preparing for his first flight with Douglass; the duo is visiting Colorado soon.

“It will be fun to see how he does traveling by air,” Douglass said. “We are going to continue strengthening our bond. That way we know each other’s tendencies or quirks.”

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