LaGRANGE, Ga. - It’s a really exciting time at Canine Assistants, the Georgia-based organization that teaches service dogs and helps place them with recipients across the country. Right now, men and women are reporting to Milton to begin a two-week camp during which the service dogs will choose their human, and the pairs will begin bonding and working together.
One of the families attending camp this year is the Aikens, who have been waiting five years for a service dog. Leigh was just a teenager when she survived a car crash that left her partially paralyzed and without the ability to speak. In the years since, Leigh not only re-learned to walk and talk, but she also graduated high school and college and earned two Master’s degrees. Her traumatic brain injury, however, caused her lifelong seizures, which occur without warning. That’s meant three decades of constant worry for her mother Linda, a nurse, and her father Jim, retired from 20 years as a Marine and more than 30 as a Delta pilot.
"She can't live by herself. I don't want her by herself. I worry about everything," says Linda. "We're just afraid. We're parents."
Leigh became aware of Canine Assistants five years ago and learned that there are service dogs that can sense seizures before they happen, warning their humans of the oncoming seizure and alerting possible bystanders to what is happening. For Leigh, getting a service dog means a measure of independence and confidence in public which she hasn’t experienced since the crash, and her parents say the animal will provide a sense of peace they haven’t felt in 30 years.
"When I have a seizure, I don't know I'm gonna have it," says Leigh. "The dog will be there and hopefully tell me and I'll be able to get somewhere to where I'll be okay."
Good Day Atlanta’s Paul Milliken spent some time with Leigh and her family as they began their camp experience, learning more about how they expect Canine Assistants and their future service dog to change their lives forever.