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Family dog Hershey senses seizures

Apr. 6, 2013
Gavin: A Financial Nightmare
Gavin: A Financial Nightmare: A family makes a tough decision when it comes to providing intensive care for their son. Genetic testing, health insurance, trips to the emergency room, with medical expenses piling up, Video by Guy Tubbs
Hershey, Gavin's specially-trained service dog that sleeps in bed with Gavin every night and alerts the family before a seizure, sits for a portrait in the pediatric ICU at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers on Feb. 26. / Sarah Coward/

Coming Monday

Part Two. The family’s journey continues, and they learn more about what Gavin suffers from. Medical needs mount, and so do the costs. The community rallies around them.


Special page: Learn more about the Lawrey family's plight through video, see Gavin’s own photography, and see family pictures, follow the story of Gavin with a timeline, comment using social media and learn how you can contribute to the family.

“Breathe Gavin…Don’t forget to breathe,” his mother says in the background of a home video. “Are you excited Gavin? Who’s here?”

Light streams in on the boy standing just inside the front door of his house barefoot in a blue polo and flannel shorts. Breathing heavily, he clenches his fists, open and close, open and close. Brandi Lawrey laughs and asks if he needs his inhaler.

In that smile, all you see is teeth.

“Hersheeeey!” Gavin says in a squealing high pitch.

“Come here Hershey!” he claps his hands.

The snorting, curly black-haired toy poodle rambles into the house sporting a red vest and a license almost the size of his head.

He bounces across the tile floor and almost into Gavin’s knees.

The bond is immediate. An understanding of sorts between the boy and his dog to protect one another.

This fully trained seizure alert dog sometimes gets confused for a stuffed animal.

All black except for just the little white fur at his chin and on his chest like a tuxedo, Hershey is the size of the boy’s torso.

It can take dogs years to learn how to sense a seizure. This poodle graduated early. The classes, held in Miami, cost $10,000. Over time, Hershey learned to distinguish Gavin’s usual scent from the smell of that massive change in body chemistry that comes along with a seizure.

The dog was Gavin’s sister’s only Christmas wish in December 2011. At the mall, “Santa” came up to Brandi and said, “Your daughter has a tall order.”

Through an online fundraiser, Makenzie Lawrey helped her mother’s friend raise the money funds to send Hershey to get trained.

Kids at school and even the occasional adult on the street don’t understand why Gavin needs the dog. People think Gavin is blind.

But Hershey has become a classroom icon. He even has a picture in the yearbook with his name: “Hershey the dog.”

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That first day, the dog curled up at Gavin’s feet, just below a little black and white table. He sat stoically while Gavin ate a turkey, cheese and butter sandwich.

At night, he wraps himself around Gavin’s head while the boy sleeps. At school, he tucks himself under Gavin’s desk. He never seems to mind when Gavin yanks his leash or squishes a floppy ear.

Hershey is ever present, tied by a leash to Gavin’s hip. At every doctor’s appointment, the black toy poodle stands guard at the edge of the hospital bed. He watches intently in his service vest, plays with Gavin and naps occasionally. He sniffs every doctor and nurse that comes close. As a service animal, he’s allowed everywhere except the operating room.

For the first time, the Lawreys had a reprieve from the unknown.

Hershey warns of an oncoming seizure three to five minutes before it begins. Every dog’s alert is different.

The day after he arrived, the dog went to work.

Lying in bed with Gavin during his afternoon nap, Hershey became frantic.

Brandi thought the dog was insane. Suddenly, he was jumping around, pouncing on her and her son. A moment later, the boy began to convulse.

She started to sob. Hershey has never missed a seizure.

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