XENIA, Ohio – Evan Moss, a bubbly, very interactive 8-year-old plays with his electronic game. Legs stretched out behind him as he lay on his stomach, atop a quilted blanket. Next to him, legs stretched out, lying on her belly too is Mindy. Paws up, she is chewing on her large, clear, Nylabone. They won’t be sharing toys anytime soon, said Evan, but they are already sharing a bed.
“It’s cool to see them bonding,” said Lisa Moss, Evan’s mom, who said they spent each night cuddling i
n their hotel bed while training at 4 Paws. “He’s really taking to her and she’s really taking to him too.”
The two have become fast friends over the course of the past 11 days—in sync; in a way that is, well, magical. Evan has found in Mindy, a BFF, to share his love of life with. When asked what he’ll do with his newfound friend?
“Everything!” he said with a bashful smile engraved on his face. He said that he couldn’t wait to get home to their sprawling Alexandria, Va., back yard and race with her.
“She’ll play catch with me. She’ll race with me!”
It’s important that Evan has Mindy by his side—not just for companionship, but for life.
“Not much slows him down—except taking away his iPod,” Lisa joked. But one thing does slow him down. Epilepsy.
Evan was born with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), which causes tumors to grow within his vital organs; most prevalent in his brain, eyes, heart, skin, kidneys and lungs. The soon-to-be 3rd-grader, had his first seizure when he was just a few weeks old. Soon thereafter, doctors had to remove a tumor from his brain.
“He handles [seizures] surprisingly well,” said Lisa. “It’s part of who he is.”
Evan has nocturnal seizures just about every 10 days, said his parents, Rob and Lisa Moss. They occur mostly while he’s sleeping. He usually doesn’t recall them; however, the seizures often leave him unbalanced the next morning, making it difficult to walk. It’s a scary time every two weeks for the Mosses. Lisa said she fears that they’ll sleep through a nighttime seizure. It’s an unnerving feeling that creeps into the mother of two’s mind from time to time—especially since they never know the severity.
For most of his seizures, medical attention is necessary. And that’s where Mindy comes in. Evan knows exactly what his best friend is for.
“She’ll help me when I have seizures. She’ll help me when I get off balance,” he said.
Mindy will be a brand new part of the family, waiting in the wings, to help alert them to seizures and to play when he needs a friend.
“I think she’s going to help us in ways we don’t even know yet,” said Lisa, hopeful of what’s to come.
Service dogs need not apply—
Lisa wasn’t always so pro-service dog.
For a long time, Lisa and Rob, creators of SeizureTracker.com, a seizure diary system website, avoided the notion that their son neither needed a service dog, nor that he would benefit from having one.
“As helpful as they can be, they can complicate your life,” expressed Lisa with understandable concern.
It’s no longer just going into a mall with a child with special needs or disabilities; it’s going into a mall with a dog—and the attention and questions that follow from that.
As Rob and Lisa frequented epilepsy conferences for their website, year after year, they always came across one booth regularly. It was a table set up for service dogs, specifically for those with epilepsy.
And since they didn’t teach their son to be neither embarrassed nor ashamed of who he is, they started vigorously digging into and researching everything that they could about service dogs, hoping the assistance a dog could provide would outweigh their concerns.
They had a long list of demands. The service dog had to perform seizure-alert, be trained for a child and hypoallergenic, due to Lisa’s allergies. It was a tall order, but an order that 4 Paws could and would fill.
Enter through the doggie door: Mindy.
An author is born—
Evan was 7-years-old when they started the application process with 4 Paws. As one of the requirements, he would need to write or draw a photo to include with the application materials. The then-2nd-grader who’d written stacks of books in class, said, he didn’t think so. Rob and Lisa then explained to him that they needed it. What he meant was… ‘I don’t think one picture is enough.’ So he asked, “Can I write a book?” Lisa: “Of course!”
Once they self-published his book, “My Service Dog,” several media outlets featured the young author, bringing awareness to epilepsy and service dogs. As a result, they ended up using the money they made through book sales as the required $13,000 that they needed to raise to make “My Service Dog” a reality for Evan. Lisa chuckled, remembering that they had had all kinds of fundraisers planned and in the works, like a 5K run and a yard sale.
“It ended up all we needed to do was the book,” she said. They did, however, hold the yard sale since their home was exploding with the generosity of donations to sell.
They raised the funding for a service dog selling one book at a time, signing one copy at a time. Hundreds lined up, wrapping around their local coffee shop, during his book signing near Washington, D.C. Her son’s fans continued looping around the block. It was like nothing they had ever seen before.
There were so many people, nearly 600 that they sold out of books on-hand. They took orders for more books—many from people who drove in from out of state just to meet Evan. It was a community coming together to support one little boy, determined to achieve his dream of sharing his life with a service dog.
“So many groups of [our] friends—to look at into the crowd, it was like a history of our time, with all the people who had been supporting us,” said Rob. Those who came out in support at the event included nine service dogs, some from 4 Paws.
moment on, everything was a whirlwind for Evan and his family. His book, “My Service Dog” sold about 4,000 copies, was the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.com’s ‘Kids Health’ section and was featured on Amazon’s homepage. Now, there’s even a Kindle version.
A few days after the book signing, Lisa said, the coffee shop, where it was held, called her. They said an unnamed woman came in, wanting to donate $13,000 to Evan for his dog. Since they had already raised what they needed, Lisa quickly suggested that they make that donation to 4 Paws, in turn helping more children with disabilities to reach their fundraising goals as well.
Boy meets dog—
The only pet Evan had ever had was a fish, until now.
It was only a matter of time before the determined, talented, little boy was introduced to his very own service dog.
Dressed modestly in a sweater, Mindy, a Goldendoodle, had been freshly groomed and trimmed for their initial meeting on Day 1 of class at 4 Paws. To avoid getting too cold, she was fashionable in her green and blue sweater, to say the least.
The curly-eared pup and the precocious young boy were soon two peas in a pod… it was the making of this boy’s best friend. For the next 11 days, they trained at the Xenia facility together, learning each other and what they had to do for each other in case of emergency and everything in between.
“She’s going to be his best friend,” said Lisa, beaming ear to ear on graduation day at 4 Paws. “She’s a great dog—such a sweet girl.”
Mindy will alert Lisa and Rob at night when Evan has a seizure. In addition, she will assist him with behavioral and socialization skills, balance after a seizure and will be tethered to Evan when they are out in public—since Evan has a tendency to get lost in the shuffle, disappearing into crowds. Mindy will give them piece of mind, and Evan, a companion in all aspects of life.
“It will give him the freedom of sleeping alone,” said Lisa of the relief having Mindy to watch over her son at night would be for him and the entire family. Relief, because Rob and Lisa would have to take turns sleeping with their son in case he had a seizure.
But aside from Mindy’s main duties, the best part for Evan? Mindy will accompany him to school this year—which to Evan is, “awesome!”
“She’s a part of the family—it’s like having another kid.”
The hand-drawn dog on his book, “My Seizure Dog” looks an awful lot like Mindy, but Evan said that was just sheer coincidence.
“I was just drawing an extraordinary dog,” he said. Extraordinary indeed.
A sequel to “My Service Dog” may be in the works… but Evan said, not for a while.