Lily is a lifesaver. As a seizure alert dog she works 24/7 as a medical necessity.
Her owner and handler is Anders Skjerli who lives in the Monponsett side of Hanson with Kristen, his wife of 11 years, and their son Kieran, 4.
A Newfoundland breed, Lily, doesn’t go unnoticed — resembling a hefty bear. At seven years old, she’s a leisurely 100 pounds, mild and affectionate in temperament, yet vigilant.
Skjerli who is now 31, was diagnosed with a seizure disorder at the age of 16, following numerous staring events or focal seizures. During soccer practice he suffered a tonic-clonic seizure (also known as a grand mal seizure).
It became apparent that due to the severity of his illness he required another level of assistance.
In the past, Skjerli has been intubated and has had some grave health scares. Lily, along with safety and alerts, also relieves stress on his family.
Lily gives Skjerli about an hour and a half warning before an episode
“It allows me to talk with my wife (Kristen) knowing the dog is alerting me,” he said. “I can tell her ahead and just let her know that the dog is giving me a warning in case something happens.”
Several of the most significant things individuals need to understand or when dealing with a “working” service dog include respecting that the dog is working. Skjerli needs her to be on her guard alerting him to a possible life threatening emergency.
“Ideally it is better for a person not to interact with Lily but talking to me (the handler) is fine,” he advises. “I always say ‘no’ to patting her because she is distractible. It is better not to acknowledge the dog.”
In educating others Skjerli realizes by nature people are curious and they have every right to ask about the dog, however delicate questions on his medical history can becoming invasive so he adopts the policy of less is more.
When approached at a public location such as a restaurant or business he does say “yes, Lily is a service dog”.
“I acknowledge the dog is for me. Sometimes the questions begin with “are you training her?” and I simply answer ‘no’, she is for me,” he said.
There are just questions that you wouldn’t ask someone about their medical history, he said.
Lily is Anders’s second dog. His former service dog, Mater, began having hip issues and was being considered for retirement.
“He would jump away and leave me so I wouldn’t fall on him as his way of alerting me,” he said.
Personality in a trained service dog is important as a service dog is trained to work. Mater had trouble transitioning to the down time of retirement.
“The dog doesn’t understand,” Skjerli said. “He wants to work. They can become frustrated and act out against the handler or in the home.”
Simply enough Mater chose to move on. He fell in love with the administrative assistant at Skjerli’s place of employment, he recalled with a chuckle. Mater is a king now living the high life and the Skjerlis see him regularly.
“Having a new canine was a tough transition at first but now Lily, who came from Colorado-based Noelle’s Dogs 4 Hope gives me independence,” he said.
He is a teaching assistant at a local school serving students ages 3-21 with severe, multiple disabilities, many of whom have complex medical needs. They are used to therapy dogs coming in. Lily is at his side at work every day.
His disability is not a visible one, so on occasion he has had people tell him he “doesn’t look sick,” which made him hesitant to obtain a service dog.
“It took me a long time before I accepted the idea of having a service dog,” he said. “It was like I was proclaiming my disability. … Having the dog greatly improves my life.”
Besides having a full time-job and a busy family life, the Skjerli family attends The Well Community Church in Halifax. He also walks Lily in the Hanson-Halifax Monponsett area. She keeps him busy caring and grooming her, even as she is always keeping her ears and eyes on him.
When the day comes that Lily shows signs she is not as vigilant as she was in her younger years she will retire.
Skjerli said the most important thing he can offer to educate others is interpretation. Lily is a highly trained piece of medical equipment a slight comparison to a walker or cane.
“She is there for a medical purpose, and medical support,” he said. “The dog is not here to comfort me.”
The website Skjerli refers to most, especially when documenting his right to bringing Lily in a business or public place is ada.gov.
The website offers information for people with regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act, but is also an educational tool for anyone who would like to understand the differences between a regular pet and a service animal.
Recent news coverage on the need for companion animals, has revealed that some canine owners vest their dogs with a ‘fake’ service label to allow their pets’ access to similar places as a medical alert dog. The differences in training and also extreme necessity have been debated. As recently as last week in Boston at the State Gouse supporters rallied to pass a bill against owners who fake a service dog as a crime with a fine of $500.