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Alaska Dog Saves Owner Suffering from Seizures

by Bethany Meissner

Photo Credit: Eric Skousen

It’s not common to see a dog loping by himself through the halls of a hospital. However, that very thing happened this summer at Sitka Community Hospital in Sitka, Alaska. A large Labrador Retriever ran down a hall because he knew his owner needed help.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Eric Skousen has cerebral palsy which affects his movement and coordination. The service dogs he has had over the years have helped him with balance and mobility. One dog he had before Thorr was named Pico de Gallo. That dog went with Eric to his job where Eric worked with adults who have mental disorders. These days Thorr and Eric often spend time outdoors where Eric loves to hike and fish. 

Although such activities can leave Eric suffering with muscle contractions afterwards, even confining him to bed for multiple days because of the pain, Eric believes in embracing life. He told reporters, “You’ve got to live life, got to enjoy it.” Eric revealed that it was his dad who inspires him to not allow his cerebral palsy to keep him from being active and enjoying life. Discussions with his dad about fishing in Alaska helped inspire Eric to settle in Sitka 11 years ago.

It was after a recent hiking and fishing expedition with Thorr that Eric ended up at Sitka Community Hospital. Although it’s not common for service dogs to stay with their owners in the hospital, Eric was able to keep Thorr with him – and that may have saved Eric’s life. One day while Eric was in the hospital, Ryan Huddlestun, a senior ward clerk, was at the nurse’s station down the hall from Eric’s room. She told reporters, that Thorr “ran up, nudged me twice, made sure I acknowledged he was there, and took off back toward the room” where Eric was having an intense seizure and unable to call for help himself. 

Eric later described his dog running through the hospital for help as Thorr’s “Superman thing.” Michele Forto co-owns Alaska Dog Works, the dog training company that gave Thorr his service dog certification. As part of his training, Thorr was taught to seek help if Eric falls, as well as to detect chemical changes in Eric that happen with seizures. However, none of his training included searching for help in a hospital which can be quite a different setting compared to the rest of the world. However, Michele told reporters, “When the recipient and the dog have a good symbiotic relationship, things happen regardless of any training.” She credits the close bond between Eric and Thorr for the dog’s heroic actions, adding “Dogs do magical things.”

Sitka has also recently been in the news due to an Op Ed by Brendan Jones, a Sitka fisherman. Brendan wrote about the dangers of Pebble Mine, a potential mining operation in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The mine would destroy one of the last wild salmon nurseries in the world. As part of Halo's OrigiNative sourcing, all of the seafood used in Halo pet foods, including salmon, are wild caught fish from certified sustainable fisheries. Halo does this not only because we believe that it provides better nutrition to pets, but that it calls back to a time when all animals were respected. Part of that respect involves protecting the rare nurseries where wild salmon spawn, such as Bristol Bay. To save Bristol Bay and stop Pebble Mine, the National Resource Defense Council is encouraging people to write to officials and has even provided an easy-to-use form letter online. Just as Thorr worked to save Eric, we can work to save the salmon.