Dopey the golden retriever is trained to notify 12-year-old Britton Voss' parents or teacher when he is about to have a seizure

By Cathy Free
Updated January 27, 2017 11:56 AM
Credit: Courtesy Melissa Lovell

The “guardian angel” of Room No. 172 at Utah’s Sunset Junior High has been known to lick a face or two and sprawl on the floor to yawn in the middle of class.

But Dopey, a 4-year-old golden retriever, is never more than an arm’s length away from Britton Voss, a special needs 12-year-old who has been protected by the service dog around the clock since 2013.

Hours before Britton — who was born with a rare form of epilepsy and is developmentally delayed — has a seizure, Dopey offers an “alert,” panting and nudging the teacher or one of Britton’s parents to let them know that the boy will soon start seizing. But that’s not all.

Dopey also picks up on whether other students are about to have seizures in Melissa Lovell’s functional skills class and offers comfort to special needs kids who are having a rough day.

Credit: Courtesy Dawn Voss

“He’s a member of our team,” Lovell, 31, tells PEOPLE. “His presence has calmed some of my students down when they simply look at him. I have one student who loves to talk about Dopey’s ‘chocolate chip eyes.’ He and the other kids see him as another student — an extension of Britton. This is not just a dog. Dopey’s an angel.”

Britton and Dopey have had a special bond from the start, when the boy’s mom, Dawn Voss, first brought the specially-trained canine into her family’s Clearfield, Utah, home after a friend told her that some dogs could learn to detect seizures.

Credit: Courtesy Dawn Voss

After picking up the pup from Noel’s Dogs Four Hope in Colorado Springs, “he and Britton instantly became close,” the stay-at-home mom of three tells PEOPLE. “Britton adores him. Dopey acts as a pillow when they sit together to watch Star Wars movies and he sleeps right next to Britton in bed every night.”

Although Britton doesn’t speak and uses pictures on a computer tablet to communicate, no words are necessary to know that he has a lifelong friend in Dopey.

If Dopey detects that Britton will soon have a seizure, the dog alerts Dawn or her husband, Samuel, by either nudging their hands or by nestling his head in Britton’s lap and barking.

“He’s another pair of eyes on Britton, so that we don’t have to be with him 24/7 just to make sure that he is all right,” Samuel Voss, who works at Hill Air Force Base, tells PEOPLE. “Dopey is the best kind of companion Britton could ever hope for in his life because he loves Britton and lovingly puts up with everything he does and wherever he goes, day in and day out. Britton knows that Dopey will always be there for him.”

Credit: Courtesy Dawn Voss

Although it’s a mystery how dogs can detect seizures, Britton’s teacher says it’s no secret how her silky-eared “student” has bonded with everyone in her class.

“When I was pregnant, Dopey even alerted me to Braxton Hicks contractions,” says Melissa. “What he does for all of us is indescribable. Dopey is special beyond measure and is essential not only in Britton’s life, but in our classroom as well.”