Seizure-Predicting Dog Saves Owner’s Life

Shanna Wilkinson saved a puppy's life seven years ago. Now, that dog keeps her owner safe every day by predicting her epileptic seizures.

Thirteen-year-old Shanna Wilkinson of Magna, Utah saved the life of Holly, a Shetland Sheepdog, when she was just a puppy. Holly was the runt of the litter – a tiny, fragile dog. According to the vet, there was a strong chance that Holly wouldn’t survive. But with Shana’s love, care, and constant attention, Holly grew into a strong and healthy adult dog – with a special skill that would save Shanna’s life more than once.

At seventeen, Shanna was struck with epilepsy. She began having frequent seizures, often as many as nine a day. Because she couldn’t predict their onset, every day was fraught with danger – it became a risky prospect for her to simply cross the street, much less drive a car.

Just when it seemed like Shanna would be reduced to living as a permanent shut-in, Shanna’s mother noticed something strange about Holly. Several times a day, the dog would begin whimpering and clawing at Shanna’s leg. Initially, no one was sure what was wrong with her. But they soon realized that Holly’s odd behaviors always occurred five or ten minutes before one of Shanna’s seizures began. Incredibly, the Sheltie is able to predict exactly when the seizure will occur, even though Shanna herself never sees them coming.

Holly isn’t the first dog in history to have this special skill – a small number of other canines have been acclaimed as seizure predictors as well. Researchers aren’t quite sure how the dogs can sense the oncoming seizure, but chalk it up to signals such as a miniscule change in body odor or posture, or a sound that is inaudible to humans – possibly a combination of all three elements, according to the medical journal Seizure. Whatever the case, dogs that can predict seizures are very rare: Even the greatest of service dogs aren’t able to pick up the skill if it doesn’t come naturally to them.

Luckily, no matter how the mysterious seizure-tracking talent works, Holly’s got it – and her amazing assistance has made life a billion times better for her proud owner, Shanna.

“I feel comfortable to go out in public, and that I’ll have an opportunity to go away from everyone and go lay down when Holly alerts me,” Shanna told the Salt Lake Tribune. “[Holly] has really given me back my independence.