An online PSA about a service dog name Raider has become a teachable moment for the entire Internet.
Tessa Connaughton is the English/Bull mastiff mix’s owner and best friend. The 20-year-old and her family from the Bay Area of California adopted Raider from a friend and ending up having him trained to be a service dog to help with Connaughton’s anxiety. The canine is trained to provide deep pressure therapy when his owner gets overwhelmed, meaning Raider can recognize when Connaughton, who is autistic, is getting anxious and will lay on her to help provide relief.
Already an expert at this important task, Raider has recently started mastering the skills necessary for a seizure response dog as well. Unfortunately, Connaughton has started to experience seizures.
“I suddenly had two seizures in as many months, and I was diagnosed with frontal lobe generalized seizures. We’re still figuring out how to work with it, and still training him to respond to my seizures. We want him to roll me onto my side, press an alert button that I’m going to keep with me, and protect my head,” Connaughton told PEOPLE in an email.
As a placeholder for the training that Raider is still learning, and while he also learns how to differentiate between Connaughton’s anxiety and seizures, the loyal companion has been taught how to go get someone to help when his owner is in distress.
He put this skill into action recently on a recent run to the store with Connaughton.
“I tripped on air or my own feet to be honest, and fell fairly hard. Not hard enough to hurt me, but Raider took it as a seizure, and ran down a few aisles to find the nearest person,” Raider’s owner said. “I got up, hoping no one saw any of it, and found him nosing an older lady. Early fifties, if I had to guess, and she was swatting at his nose and telling him to leave her alone while she was shopping.”
Connaughton added that while Raider is a big dog, he followed his training, was wearing his service dog vest and was not aggressive in his approach, “just a nudge to her knee to get her attention.”
Thankfully, Connaughton was not hurt during the fall and this was not an emergency situation. But the woman’s unenthusiastic response to Raider’s efforts to get help encouraged her to share a PSA on Tumblr which has now gone viral. In the post, which has over 79,000 notes, Connaughton recounts the situation and than offers this advice to those who see a service dog alone.
“If a service dog without a person approaches you, it means the person is down and in need of help. Don’t get scared, don’t get annoyed, follow the dog! If it had been an emergency situation, I could have vomited and choked, I could have hit my head, I could have had so many things happen to me.”
She goes on to write that she is going to work on Raider’s training to make sure the dog knows to go to another individual if the first one won’t provide help, but that she wrote this post so people would know to follow a service dog that approaches them alone.
Connaughton said she didn’t expect much to come from the post, so she was surprised when it received such a response from the Tumblr community and media outlets. Many responded they weren’t aware they should follow a service dog who is alone. To help prevent a similar incident from occurring, along with the additional training, Connaughton is also planning to buy a patch for Raider’s vest that reads “If I’m Alone, Follow Me!”
Overall, she is happy to have informed the public about this simple, potentially life-saving choice. Connaughton also said that there has been some criticism to her story and PSA. She acknowledges that there could be people who are allergic or afraid of dogs, or other emergency responses she can teach Raider, and that the dog’s training is a work in progress and “its a battle to figure out a solution that works for everyone.”
Connaughton also acknowledged that she is lucky to have found a family dog that ended up being trainable as a service dog, but recommends that those looking to do the same screen several shelter canines to find the one with the personality most suitable to service dog training, since not all canines are the right fit for service dog life.