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By Katrina Margolis
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Two years ago, the Shavor Family of Needham began a journey to bring a service dog into their home for their daughter, Rachel. Just a few months ago, the Shavors welcomed Abby into their home. Abby is Rachel’s brand new service dog, trained from just a few weeks old specifically for her.
Born with macrocephaly capillary malformation syndrome with a brain malformation called bilateral perisylvian polylmicrogyria, Rachel suffers from seizures, which have made it particularly difficult for her family to keep her safe at night.
With Abby around, though, all of this could change.
“We had to raise $15,000 for the organization 4 Paws for Ability in order to be placed, to be eligible to get a dog, and be placed in a class,” Rachel’s mother, Shannon, said. “We raised over that. We raised, I think, $18,000. We got so many donations from people in this community, people that we know, people that we don’t know, people that sent in large amounts of money, some anonymously - it was amazing. We wouldn’t have made it without that, for sure.” After raising the money, the Shavors were eligible to move forward. They were placed in the April 2017 class, so this past April, the family went to Ohio, where their service dog was.
In the months leading up to their Ohio trip, Rachel had to wear special shirts at night. Each time she had a seizure, the shirts underwent a rigorous protocol to be sent to Ohio so that the scent could be shown to Abby and she could begin training in recognizing when Rachel would have her seizures.
“We got there in April and we received Abby,” Shannon shared. “We trained with them for two weeks on all the different commands. Mostly it was training the handler, the parents, on how to work with Abby and continue the training for Abby and Rachel together.”
Even in the small amount of time Abby has been with the Shavors, she has made an enormous impact. “The biggest thing so far is that when we go out in public, Abby wears a special harness and Rachel is attached to her by a little belt that she wears, so when we walk down the street Rachel can walk down the street and walk fairly independently,” Shannon explained. “I don’t have to have that death grip on her, she’s not trying to get away from me, she doesn’t wander off. She follows Abby, which is amazing.”
While Abby is still being trained to help detect Rachel’s seizures, allowing her to sleep in her own bed, the impact that she is already making is unmistakable.
“We just want people in the community to know we have Abby, and to really just thank them for their support and donations,” she added.