Zack, who is in his late 20s, has always wanted a dog. His parents playfully tease him that he “took it a little too far by getting sick,” though.
In late 2020, Zack developed drug-resistant epilepsy as a result of an infection. He was in a medically induced coma for five weeks and continues having outpatient treatment at Mayo Clinic. It was one of his occupational therapists there who suggested Zack apply for a Can Do Canine.
The idea seemed like a no-brainer for Zack. Noting that he has an invisible disability, he believed his regular seizures would be misinterpreted in public. He says, “You see somebody that looks like me—a young male, on the ground by himself. You're like, oh, well, he's either drunk or high or something like that. So I wanted to have something that identified that there’s a medical issue.”
Zack hadn’t left his house alone since the seizures began. A doting yellow Lab named Quartz changed that in a hurry.
Trained as a Seizure Assist Dog, Quartz is providing more independence and freedom for Zack. On their very first day together, Zack took her for a walk, leaving his house by himself for the first time in years. “Yes! I get to take the dog for a walk,” says Zack, excitedly, of the now frequent activity.
With Quartz by his side, Zack feels confident and secure. Prior to having her, he felt hampered by “not being able to do anything by myself without having fear of having a seizure out of nowhere.” These days, if one occurs, Quartz can get a phone for him, help him recover faster by licking him, provide deep-pressure therapy, and find a person in the home who can offer assistance. “Just having her next to me to comfort me in a scary situation is really nice,” admits Zack.
Quartz has a keen awareness of Zack’s symptoms. When Zack feels an episode coming on, he might sit down, and Quartz seems to know instinctively that her service is needed. Even if she’s keeping an eye on Zack from another room, she’ll rush to his side and put her skills into action.
Learning all of the commands for Quartz was no small feat for Zack. His mom, Lu, explains, “As someone who has memory issues, he was particularly challenged by that.” Quartz was patient with Zack through the training process, though, and reserved deploying one of her signature sighs. “She’s very much a drama queen,” Zack says of the dog whose small ears remind him of Dorito chips.
Though Zack won’t be able to return to his career as a restaurant cook, his world is gradually expanding thanks to Quartz, and he hopes to have a job again in the future.
The volunteer job of raising assistance dogs like Quartz is something this family deeply commends. Lu shares, “The fact that people raise a puppy and then say, ‘Okay, here you go’ and are willing to give their time, love, and their energy … it's just amazing to me.”
So Zack, who always wanted a dog, now has not just any dog, but his own world-expanding dog, Quartz.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Whelping Home — Karin & Elroy Balgaard
Raisers — Sarah Coen-Frei, Eileen Kalow, Stephen Todey & Jennifer Anderson
Special Thanks — Federal Correctional Institution - Waseca, Jackson Correctional Institution