Animal Planet’s new series Saved (Mondays at 8 p.m. ET) recently featured the story of the Pieters family in Lancaster, PA, and their adopted Terrier mix, Jack. The family adopted Jack to be a companion to their young daughter, Maya, who suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome. CBPS causes partial paralysis of facial muscles, which results in difficulty eating and swallowing. The disease is also associated with seizures.
Jack’s company helped Maya’s confidence blossom — and, four years after he was adopted, when 7-year-old Maya suffered her first grand mal seizure, he literally saved her life by sensing her distress and alerting her parents.
We spoke with Maya’s mother, Michelle, about Jack’s amazing feat and what he means to her family. Watch the video from Saved above, then read our exclusive interview.
PETFINDER: What made you decide to adopt a dog?
MICHELLE PIETERS: Many of Maya’s therapists and doctors were the ones to suggest us getting a dog. This was prior to and after her diagnosis of Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome in October 2003.
Maya was very lonely — her brother, sister and dad were all gone to school all day. She socially did not fit in and really never left my side all day and all night long. None of us except for Mary Elise, Maya’s sister, were keen on getting a dog.
Finally Mary Elise pleaded enough so we started checking the Humane League of Lancaster County on a weekly basis.
Maya was behind in all developmental areas and was in extensive therapies: speech, physical and occupational. She was very resistant to all of these therapists, especially those that had to deal with her oral motor skills.
How and when did you get Jack?
Maya and I bumped into Jack on January 6, 2004, at the Humane League. A police officer was bringing him in after he rescued him from a trash Dumpster — with the lid closed. I was leaving the shelter after just telling myself that I was not going to continue our search any further. Literally 10 seconds after thinking this, we bumped into one another.
For three days I could not stop thinking of this little scared, flea-infested dog. Maya, Mary Elise and I went back to inquire about this dog that we had bumped into.
Maya had an immediate bond with him — she had never even approached any other dogs there. We adopted Jack on January 9, 2004.
How old was he?
They think that Jack was 1 or 1-1/2 years of age when we adopted him.
How did Maya’s life change after you adopted Jack?
Between January 9, 2004, and November 7, 2007, Jack and Maya were inseparable. Maya made such growth, especially in her oral-motor areas. Jack was able to stimulate her facial muscles on an hourly basis by licking her cheeks — this is something that I was told to do with a wet washcloth, but Maya would not allow it!
Jack went with Maya to her speech therapies, sitting on her lap during her sessions. I used Jack as a crutch to take her to her various doctor’s appointments — she would always bring home a sticker from her appointments for Jack’s crate if she cooperated.
Maya used Jack as a crutch when having to speak to others — she always spoke about Jack! Eating was still difficult but Jack would sit patiently by her side and lick her clean, so we saved lots of money on napkins!
By the time Maya had to go to kindergarten at age 6 — we held her out a year — she was loved enough by Jack that his love allowed her to be confident enough to make friends. Most of these friends are still her main friends today.
What happened when Maya had her first grand mal seizure?
The morning of November 7, 2007, Maya was asleep in her bedroom on the second floor of our house. Jack was asleep in his unlatched crate on the first floor. It was about 5 a.m. and never got up this early. He just raced up the steps and was scratching at Maya’s bedroom door.
I thought she was just having a violent nightmare, but Jack’s insistence on barking at ME knocked reality into me that this was a grand mal seizure.
We had been told that seizures are very common with her syndrome. Each and every seizure that Maya had at home — sometimes up to six a day — Jack always seemed to know right before it happened. He would bark at us, run to her side and as long as someone was with Maya, he would bow down by her. After Maya was done convulsing, he would lick her face until she would respond to us.
Many times, depending on the length of the seizure, Maya would then fall asleep for an hour or so. Jack would lie on top of her while she slept. Sometimes if she were standing before the seizures she would fall over, and Jack seemed to always break her fall. It did not seem to matter where in the house Maya was, he always knew. Most of those nights he insisted on sleeping with Maya.
This lasted a good year until the doctors could find the proper medications and dosages. Also we know now what to aviod that could trigger a seizure. Jack stopped sleeping with her around that time and is now back downstairs in his crate.
How are Jack and Maya today?
Thankfully, both are very well today! Jack is still so connected with Maya. Because of him, she is able to be as normal of a kid as she can be. She is in a regular classroom at school, has a fine group of friends, takes dance lessons and violin lessons.
We KNOW that God sent Jack to us — he is Maya’s guardian angel with fur!
[Maya has been seizure-free since 2008.]
Tonight on Saved: Temple Grandin talks about how cows helped her overcome her crippling anxiety and inspired her to work to improve conditions for livestock.
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