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Seizure-alert dogs, owners will now get equal access

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Local,Len Lazarick

Paul Griffin and Suzanne Levin hope going to restaurants and stores with their son, Jake Griffin, will become morehassle-free, now that Gov. Martin O?Malley has signed a new law that will permit Jake?s service dog, Sienna, to accompany them.

Jake, 5, has epilepsy, and Sienna has been trained to sense when he is having a seizure.

"The dog only barks if he?s having a seizure," in which Jake "turns blue and stops breathing," Levin said.

"While we had the right to take the dog anywhere" under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, "enforcement was difficult," Paul Griffin said.

Maryland law only allows the use of service animals for the blind, deaf, hard of hearing or mobility impaired.

But when the new law takes effect Oct. 1, the same rights will apply to people with mental disorders such as epilepsy and autism, including children and the parents of these children.

"I never knew that dogs could be useful with epilepsy," said state Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, who introduced the bill on behalf of the Silver Spring family. A House version of the measure introduced by Del. Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, was enacted and signed as well.

"I thought it might be difficult to pass," Forehand said. But the appearance of a shy Jake and docile Sienna at the February hearing cinched the deal.

"You could tell that he and the dog had an obvious relationship. It was really heartwarming," Forehand said.

"I knew right after the hearing that it was going to pass."

The family got the dog from an Ohio group called 4 Paws for Ability, which provides the animals to many adults and children with disabilities, including those with seizure disorders.

The organization believes the dogs can sense an oncoming seizure by smelling chemical changes that precede the event or noting minor behavior changes that signal a seizure. The dogs also may have a calming effect on their human partners.

llazarick@baltimoreexaminer.com

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