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The Transformative Role of Epilepsy Service Dogs in Families' Lives

In the quiet of the night, Samantha and Jon Payne heard a moaning cry coming from their son’s bedroom. There were no prior warning signs, but their then three-year-old son Blake was having his first seizure. 

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be his last, and the event marked the beginning of young Blake’s journey to an epilepsy diagnosis and his parents’ quest for ways to support their son.

As Blake’s seizures persisted, occurring exclusively during his sleep, Samantha found herself in a state of constant vigilance. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t relax,” she shares. “I was consumed by the fear of missing one of his seizures.” This fear intensified after learning about sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) from Blake’s neurologist.

During one sleepless night, Samantha knew something needed to change, and through an internet deep-dive, she learned about seizure assistance dogs for epilepsy. 

Seizure assistance dogs are service dogs that undergo specialized training to alert a caregiver when their owner experiences a seizure. Some dogs are taught to stay close to the individual during a seizure. This proximity and alertness can offer reassurance and support not only to the person with seizures but also to their families and caregivers.

The decision to pursue a service dog wasn’t without challenges. Samantha and her husband grappled with concerns about integrating a new canine companion into their family dynamics, especially with an existing pet dog. However, the potential benefits far outweighed their hesitations. “We knew we needed something to keep Blake safe, and we needed help,” Samantha explains.

During her research, Samantha noticed that many of the programs in their area involved connecting service dogs with adult patients. When she geared her search toward service dogs for children, she found 4 Paws for Ability, an organization specializing in breeding, raising, and training service dogs for children with disabilities, and knew it was the right decision. The process involved intensive training sessions where Samantha, Jon, and Blake participated to ensure they were prepared for life with a service dog.

The impact was immediate when Barnett, their service dog, finally joined their family. Not only did Barnett provide invaluable seizure alerts, but he also became Blake’s constant companion, offering emotional support and helping manage his behavior.

The integration of Barnett into their daily lives was seamless, thanks to his training and adaptability. He accompanies them on their various activities and travels, ensuring Blake’s safety and providing peace of mind to his parents. 

Beyond the immediate relief provided by Barnett, Samantha and her family found themselves inspired to pay it forward. They established All Ability Sports in Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that provides sports opportunities for children with disabilities. 

“We wanted a place for Blake,” Samantha shares. “But we soon realized how many other families needed that too.”

As Samantha reflects on their journey, she is filled with gratitude for the immense support they’ve received and the profound impact Barnett has had on their lives. “We are forever grateful for 4 Paws and everyone who supported us,” Samantha concludes. “Barnett has truly changed our lives, and we’re committed to making a difference for other families like ours.”

Stories like the Payne’s inspired the development of Magnolia Paws for Compassion, a program created by Eisai Inc., in collaboration with 4 Paws for Ability and the Epilepsy Foundation. Paws for Compassion seeks to increase access to animal assistance and raise awareness of the many benefits that service and therapy dogs can provide to those coping with an illness, such as epilepsy or a seizure disorder.

To learn more about Magnolia Paws for Compassion, visit

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