Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Service dog to provide "safety net" for 5-year-old

by Bill Grimes from the Effingham Daily News:

 Hunter Iffert has a lot on his plate for a little boy who turned 5 years old this past Saturday.

    Born with Down syndrome, Hunter began having seizures shortly before his first birthday. The seizures, which mom Kiley says are related to his Down syndrome, were diagnosed as infantile spasms. Not only has the second oldest of Kiley’s four children undergone surgery, but he takes four different anti-convulsant medications on a daily basis.

    Over the years, Kiley has noticed that Hunter — who does not speak — derived great joy from snuggling with Ivan and Molly, the family dogs. On top of that, Kiley met a family through her nursing job at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis that had a seizure-response dog for their child.

    “It seemed to really help that family,” Kiley said.

    Through the efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a representative from Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope delivered George to the Iffert home in Dieterich on April 9. The golden doodle puppy has since become an important part of the family.

    Kiley said golden doodles are particularly suited for service work because people are less likely to develop allergies to that particular breed.

    “Golden doodles are more hypoallergenic,” she said.

    Soon after George became part of the Iffert family, Make-A-Wish flew the whole family to Orlando, Fla., for field training.

    “He has 10 lessons,” Kiley said. “We do all the puppy training, but he will go back to Noelle’s in January for six months of more intensive training.

    Make-A-Wish spokeswoman Laura Cannavo Huerta said some of the things George will learn at Noelle’s training facility include fetching medicine or a pillow and blanket, hitting a 911 button, alerting another person in the home, bracing Hunter from a fall and lying with him during and after a seizure.

    “More than just a faithful companion, Hunter’s new dog has already become his best friend and a source of renewed strength to deal with his condition,” Huerta said.

    “Once he is fully trained, he will pretty much go everywhere Hunter goes,” he said. “Right now, I can’t leave Hunter in a room by himself.

    “But my hope is by having George, Hunter will have a little more independence,” she said. “He’s kind of like a safety net for Hunter, basically.”

    The other Iffert children, Kaden, Hugo and Violet, have all accepted George as part of the family.

    “Kaden likes to feed him and take him out to potty, while Violet brings him toys,” Kiley said. “They will also tell people they can’t pet him.

    “If you pet him, it could be a distraction to what he is supposed to be doing.”

    Kiley said she is looking forward to George’s return from Colorado next year.

    “Hopefully, after he comes back from Colorado, Hunter and I will have more independence,” she said. “I’ll be able to go downstairs and do the laundry without having to take Hunter with me.”

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