Lynn Ratcliffe was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1998 following a head injury. Her first seizure alert dog, Dougal retired in late 2014 and Golden Retriever cross, Simba, took over as her new seizure alert dog. Lynn explains the impact that Support Dogs has had on her life.

"When my GP suggested it might be epilepsy, I went into denial, it very difficult to accept.  The impact of seizures on my everyday life was huge. It affected me and my family quite dramatically, including my two teenage children. I lost my driving licence and the medication I was taking had nasty side effects and never gave me complete control of my seizures. Ultimately I lost my job as an assistant at a nursery, because of my epilepsy, which I found devastating.

What were your expectations when you started the Support Dogs seizure alert programme with Dougal?

I learnt about Support Dogs through a man who had his own seizure alert dog and so I was quite hopeful as I knew the impact it had made to his life. It had been about 10 years since my diagnosis and so I was willing to give anything a try.

The training process is quite intensive and I probably found it harder than I expected. As well as the actual training of how to handle and work with a support dog, there is the writing of regular diaries and reports to complete. I was exhausted after the end of the intensive residential training period.

I learnt to trust Dougie very quickly and one of the most important things to me was regaining my privacy. When I have a seizure in public people are kind and want to help, but often when I woke up from it I’d be very confused. I would have strangers staring at me or talking to me. I may have been taken to A&E or somewhere else to recover so I’d be really disorientated and frustrated.

Dougie gave me a warning that prevented all of this and gave me complete control of my epilepsy.

However it took my family longer to get used to Dougie and feel confident that his alerts were 100% reliable. It took them a while before they knew that I was safe cooking, having a bath or crossing the road on my own.

As Dougal reached retirement, did you have any worries?

Dougie sadly had to retire at quite short notice. As he grew older he had become less confident around other dogs, especially after a couple of incidents of being attacked by dogs in a local park. This sadly meant that if I were to have another support dog, for his own quality of life Dougie would need to be rehomed.

As Dougie reached retirement, I felt very anxious about the future. Firstly I was worried about Dougie, who I loved enormously. I was also then worried about the impact on my family and of course my own safety; what if after Dougie retired and another suitable seizure alert dog could not be found? Support Dogs were wonderfully supportive through this whole process. They found a great home with a lovely couple who I am in regular contact with. However during the transition period, with Dougie retiring a fairly short notice, I was effectively without a seizure alert dog for 5 months until Simba began training with me in spring 2015.

I found this five month period even harder than the 10 years I had living with epilepsy before having a support dog. Through having Dougie for seven years I had been able to enjoy a safe, independent life, where I had 100% reliable advance warning of all my seizures and was able to take control and have them in private.

Suddenly I was back to having to rely on the support and help of others, not knowing when or where a seizure may happen. I relied on family and friends, without a seizure alert dog I couldn’t cook and my family became very anxious if I suggested leaving the house on my own, because of the risks involved. My mood deteriorated during this period as my privacy and quality of life became more restricted. This resulted in me becoming more stressed and in turn lead to me having even more frequent seizures.

I have four grandchildren and, thanks to Support Dogs, they have never seen me have a seizure. During the five months without a support dog, I couldn’t really be left alone with them, especially the younger ones, in case I had a seizure.

How has your partnership with Simba progressed?  What has been the impact?

Simba was alerting very early on in the training which was great. He gives me 100 % reliable 24 minute warning in advanced of all my seizures.

He has a different personality to Dougie and needs handling differently to Dougie in different situations. When I first had Dougie it took a few months for me to fully get to know him, bond with him and truly love him. It was exactly the same with Simba.

I now adore Simba as equally as much as I love Dougie. He is amazing at his job and has truly given me my life back. Having a seizure alert dog doesn’t just mean independence, privacy and assurance for me, it has an life changing impact on all my family.

They know I am safe and they no longer have to give up hours of their time to check on me, take me out or support me with cooking, shopping or any number of other daily tasks. Having a support dog means I can relax and spend time alone with my grandchildren, it means everything to me.”