Rescued Great Dane returns favor to family

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Theresa Raimey (left), her 10-year-old son Brandon and Great Dane Midge live next door to Theresa’s parents, Heike and Daniel Caul.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Midge the Great Dane is beyond great in Heike Caul’s estimation.

Having rescued Great Danes for years, Caul has found one who returns the favor: It alerts her when Brandon Raimey, her 10-year-old developmentally disabled grandson, is about to have a seizure.

His seizures, as the family refers to them for lack of a better word, began about a year and a half ago and always happen when he is sleeping. Because Caul watches Brandon in the morning and helps get him off to school, she was there when they began to take place.

“Before I would even know he was going to have a seizure, my dog did,” Caul said. “(Midge) would always run into the bedroom. I would say, ‘What are you running for?’ and he would be having a seizure.”

Caul isn’t sure whether Midge heard a highpitched keening noise or a sound of distress from Brandon, but about a minute before the episode
started, the dog would run into the boy’s bedroom and start whimpering and would sit there until the seizure ended.

“And she does it every single time,” Caul said.

But it’s not just when Brandon is asleep that his big friend is near.

“During the summer time I have him all day long,” Caul said. “(Midge)
is constantly with Brandon, sitting next to his chair or just sitting with him, or licking on his head.”

Brandon is developmentally disabled because he was born prematurely,
said his mother, Theresa Raimey. He has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and more recently, sleep apnea.

The seizure symptoms started out as night terrors, but have been
eliminated since the sleep apnea dictates the use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, often for a minute or longer.
It is usually caused when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep, blocking the airway. The brain then awakens people with sleep apnea to restart their breathing. However, the person’s sleep is very fragmented and seldom restful.

Sleep apnea is very common, and can strike anyone at any age, even children. It often goes undiagnosed
and therefore untreated, but, when it is discovered it can be treated.

Raimey said the cause of the seizurelike symptoms hasn’t actually been diagnosed yet.

“We’ve had a couple sleep studies with (electroencephalograms), and they’re not detecting them as seizures, so we don’t know exactly what they are,” she said. “He stiffens up and shakes and it looks
exactly like a seizure.

“He actually goes to school sleeping. The nurse there has seen him, and she says it does seem seizurelike.
He kind of stiffens up and shakes and holds his breath for a few seconds.”

“(Midge) knows for whatever reason what’s going on.” Brandon is not on any medications, Raimey said,
and will not be put on any until he is diagnosed.

He doesn’t walk on his own, but uses a walker at school. He doesn’t use words or talk either, and hasn’t shown much interest in the communicator boards.

Midge has been with the family since she was 6 months old and is now 6 years old. Great Danes’ life expectancy is usually eight years, but some have lived as long as 10 to 14 years with attentive care.

Caul always has rescued dogs from the Great Dance Rescue Society, and her children were raised with them. All of the dogs have been protective of the children, but she notes that Midge is her first female.

The society describes Great Danes as very people-oriented, calm creatures that do not bark much. Members also say the dogs are very devoted to their human families, like to please people and are very good with children.

Caul said Brandon has given back to his furry friend as well. By volunteering at society training events, he has helped Great Danes to become certified as therapy dogs.

“He was in there with all the big dogs, and they were fantastic with him,” Caul said.