One afternoon this past August, Kathy Gilley was walking with her dog, Jake, down Fifth Avenue. The next thing Gilley remembers is waking up in the hospital. In the intervening minutes, Gilley would learn later, she had a seizure and collapsed in the tall grass along the road.
The grass blocked a clear view of Gilley from the road, but it did not stop Jake from getting attention. Both Gilley and Hans Alderman, who with his girlfriend, Maranda McManus, were first on the scene, credit Jake with bringing help.
Alderman and McManus were returning to their Fifth Avenue home when they spotted Jake, a boxer-chocolate lab mix, in the road. Owners of three dogs themselves, the couple slowed to get a closer look at Jake, at which point they saw Gilley in the grass.
“I thought, oh look, that person is playing with their dog,” Alderman said. Then he looked closer. “No, that person is definitely convulsing. I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the intersection.”
Next thing, Alderman took his car out of the intersection, leaned on the horn to get as much attention as he could, and hopped out as his girlfriend dialed 911. For his part, Jake seemed to understand what was going on.
“Jake looked at us kind of, ‘Okay, someone is here, they’re going to help,’” Alderman said. “He didn’t bite me, or bark or nothing. He backed off a little, and he tried to help me help her.”
Gilley has had seizures periodically since she was 18 months old, she said. She has lived with epilepsy her entire life. When Alderman and McManus found her that August afternoon, Gilley was extremely tense and blue in the face, according to Alderman.
Together, he, McManus and Jake did their best to look out for Gilley’s safety until medics arrived to take her to the hospital. Within minutes, neighbors began to come out to see what was wrong, and Jake allowed himself to be led a little out of the way where he watched while a neighbor held his leash.
A lot of things could have been different about those few short minutes, Alderman said. Alderman normally turns left down B Street at Woody’s Thai and then right on Fifth Avenue to get home.
“I could have missed that turn. I could have kept on by,” he said. But the real key, the reason that he slowed down and stopped to help Gilley – that reason was Jake. “If we hadn’t have seen Jake – he was doing everything he could possibly do to bring attention to her.”
In the weeks before Gilley’s seizure, she and Jake were attending a nine week training course offered by Stephanie Lane, a franchisee with Scotch Pines Dog Training, who offers courses in Seward, Anchorage, Soldotna, Palmer and Homer.
Both Gilley and Lane said that the training wrought a positive change in Jake. Because he resembles a pit bull, Gilley said, other people have sometimes been cautious around him.
“Before he had the training and everything, everybody was kind of leery of him,” Gilley said. “Now everybody just loves him.”
Lane said that Jake’s eagerness and strength made him a difficult pupil at first, which presented a challenge for Gilley.
“I remember one class in particular. I could tell she was discouraged so I stayed after with her and she stayed for probably an hour.” Lane said. “I gave her some more one on one personal attention and encouraged her not to be discouraged. I think that was the turning point, after that I saw a lot more responsiveness in him, a lot more hope in her, and it wasn’t long after that – maybe two more classes – and she gave me this great news.”
“It was really a rewarding experience, not just to see her joy, but to then have this little icing on the cake for Jake to be her hero.”
“The training had a lot to do with it,” Gilley said. “Also, I think he’s just that bonded to me. I know he senses if I’m upset or hurt. I’ve fallen walking him on the ice, and immediately he’s right there.”
After their experience in August, Gilley and Jake are closer than ever. One day, Gilley hopes to have him fully trained as a seizure response dog, she said. Until then, she’s thankful that he knew something was wrong and found a way to help.
“Thank God for Jake.”