BY LINDSEY BARK
01/06/2020 08:30 AM
WARNER – Because of a genetic disease that affects less than 1% of the national population, Cherokee Nation citizen and former Miss Cherokee Julie Brison got a service dog to help her with health-related issues.
In December 2018, Brison said she got the worst migraine she’s ever had, sending her to the emergency room. “I’ve had migraines ever since I started college, and I’ve had like headaches since I was little, but nothing like this.”
After having stroke-like symptoms, several misdiagnoses and being sent out of state for her medical needs, Brison was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called hemiplegic migraine disease.
“What that means is the migraine part of this is just a symptom of this disease,” she said. “Basically, if I walked into an ER, they would go stroke protocol. I become completely paralyzed on my right side. My face is paralyzed. When it starts out like my face starts drooping like a stroke patient, I’ll start mixing in my words. My seizures increase.”
Termed transient aphasia, Brison said it’s a cycle that repeats itself, and because of this she’s had to stop doing many normal tasks and activities.
“So I can’t drive anymore, can’t work, so I stay home. I don’t do anything besides my art and take care of my kiddo. I have a 2-year-old,” she said.
She said her neurologist suggested she get a service dog to help her with the 20 to 40 seizures she endures weekly.
“When we started looking for a service dog, I didn’t really understand all of it that went into it. Most people think that you go to this place and they give you dog and you’re good to go and you’re fixed and you’re healed, and it’s just not like that,” she said.
Brison found Lincoln, a black standard poodle, at Glad Wags Service Dogs in Tulsa. She said she knew he was the dog for her because he detected an oncoming seizure after just meeting him.
“We met three other dogs before we met him. They were sweet and all, but we didn’t click with each other. Upon meeting him, we clicked and 30 minutes later he alerted one of my seizures. So that was a big thing. We knew automatically that he was going to be my partner,” she said.
Before bringing Lincoln home, Brison worked with him at a training facility in a three-part program. She trained with him at the facility, brought him home for weekend stays, and then he stayed with her for two weeks and was assessed on behavior before he officially became her service dog.
“He has done really well,” she said. “He’s exceeded all expectations. He actually graduated early. When I’m about to have a seizure, he’ll get up and put his paws on my shoulders, just gently.”
She added that she also has a condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, in which her heart sends out too much blood when she bends over causing her to pass out. Lincoln can sense her heart rate and put his paws on her legs so she won’t stand up.
“He’s really smart, smarter than I could ever have thought,” she said.
Brison said service dogs are trained to perform acts for people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability.”
“Nine times out of 10 they’re smarter than you,” Brison said. “So you always have to trust your dog. He is so much smarter than me. And he’s anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour out with my seizures, depending on the type. My small ones, he’s more like maybe 20, 25 minutes.”
Lincoln has been in Brison’s home more than two months and is still getting accustomed. She said it can take up to six months for a service dog to get adjusted to its new life and the lifestyle of its owner.
Brison said she has trouble in public when people or their pets bother her dog while he’s working. She said Lincoln is not a pet but a medical device and should be treated as such.
“One of the things that I think people need to know is that service dogs are not emotional support animals,” she said. “Those are two different things. So there are dogs like Lincoln, who are trained to do a medical task and they go through rigorous training. They go through months of obedience training. They’re handpicked and all of these different things to make a service dog.”
Lincoln also wears a vest and knows that it’s time to work once his vest is on, and Brison said she just wants to go out, do what she needs to do and leave.
“It’s kind of a two-edged sword,” she said. “You have this awesome medical device, but you still have to be responsible enough to handle the issues that you deal with in public. Our dogs are not trained to interact with other dogs out in public. They’re there to do a task.”