An unbreakable bond: What happens when a service dog has to retire?

Assistance dog Alepo’s retirement won’t end close relationship with Clovis man with epilepsy

Edward Crane of Clovis has epilepsy and has relied on Alepo, his assistance dog, to alert him before seizures. But Alepo faces his own health problems, and has had to retire. He'll will continue to live with Crane as they welcome a new service dog.
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Edward Crane of Clovis has epilepsy and has relied on Alepo, his assistance dog, to alert him before seizures. But Alepo faces his own health problems, and has had to retire. He'll will continue to live with Crane as they welcome a new service dog.

Ed Crane sat across from three service dogs trying to pick one when a cream-colored Labrador retriever named Alepo came to him and rubbed a furry head across his knees.

The dog’s action warned Crane, who has epilepsy, of an imminent seizure. At that moment, Crane knew he had found his canine partner.

“Every day, he has made it possible for me to deal with my epilepsy,” Crane, 61, says of the past six years with Alepo.

Without an assistance dog, Crane’s life is restricted. He has chronic head pain from a surgery that sometimes forces him to spend hours in his darkened bedroom in Clovis. Seizures leave him prone to falling. Without an assistance dog he uses a cane, but even then he constantly worries about falling.

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Alepo restored a sense of security to Crane’s life. The dog was fitted with a harness that Crane could grasp to steady himself. He could do almost anything, go anywhere with the trusty Lab by his side. The two have been to Disneyland, zoos and on cruises. They have visited governors’ offices and doctors’ offices and sat (or in Alepo’s case, laid) in the front row of concerts. “I’ve met more bands,” Crane says. “They like the dog.”

Taking Alepo everywhere became second nature, Crane says. “You get so used to working as a team, it’s almost as if life was supposed to be that way.”

Edward Crane of Clovis has epilepsy and has relied on Alepo, his assistance dog, to alert him before seizures. But Alepo has had gallbladder surgery and other health problems, and has had to retire. But Alepo will continue to live with Crane, remaining friends as he welcomes a new member of the household, a new assistance dog in November. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Life in transition

Then this summer, everything changed. Crane noticed Alepo had lost his appetite. On July 19, Alepo had emergency gallbladder surgery. The 11-year-old Lab had to officially be retired as Crane’s epilepsy assistance dog.

Alepo’s harness now sits by the front door, ready to be returned to Canine Partners for Life, a Pennsylvania service dog provider that trained Alepo to react to a scent emitted by the human body in the minutes before a seizure occurs. Crane says Alepo has never failed to alert him, and four years ago he warned a stranger of an impending seizure at an airport.

Crane is preparing to go to Canine Partners for Life in November to get a new assistance dog. He had a choice to return with Alepo. Service dog providers have foster families ready to take in retired assistance dogs. It can be expensive to care for an older, retired animal. Crane’s disability income is limited. He had to leave his job as a Manhattan insurance underwriter 17 years ago because of the epilepsy.

Alepo’s surgery cost $6,441.11. Crane created a GoFundMe account and so far, he has raised $780.

Edward Crane snuggles with his assistance dog Alepo in their Clovis home. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Five years ago, Crane created My Assistance Dog Inc., a nonprofit to provide information about assistance dogs. The website has lists of organizations that provide service dogs and information about how to get help to pay for them, among other resources. His latest effort is providing information to veterans on how they can get service dogs for free. “The problem is there are long waits to get a dog and people are not up to waiting,” he says.

Crane hesitated to sign up for a successor dog for Alepo. He says the expense of caring for a second dog was a factor. Crane’s sister, Helen Markus, says otherwise. Her brother’s hesitation probably had little to do with finances, she says. Canine Partners for Life suspects Crane’s reluctance revolved around his feelings for Alepo. “They said, ‘We definitely think Ed is going through something because of the surgery, and the guilt of bringing another dog in.’”

Alepo is not Crane’s first assistance dog. He and Charity, a female black Lab, were partners for eight years. Charity died suddenly, however, and it was easier for Crane to accept a new partner. There were no worries over how his old partner would react to a replacement.

Tonya Guy, associate director of communications at Canine Partners for Life, says Alepo likely is ready for a life of leisure. “Some dogs love retirement and go right into going on the couch,” she says. Typically when a retired canine partner is introduced to the successor service dog, the two hit it off, she says. No service dog can show any sign of aggression to be placed with an individual.

Edward Crane’s love for his assistance dog Alepo is seen everywhere in his Clovis home, in the photos of him, some large and poster-sized. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Old and new bonds

Canine Partners for Life has a dog – Zern – already chosen for Crane. He’s a yellow Lab. Crane and Zern should get along. Service dogs are matched to the person. In Crane’s case, the dog has to have the ability to alert to seizures. He needs to be mellow and calm, traits agreeable to Crane, Guys says. Zern has to walk at a slower pace to match Crane’s gait, and he has to like to travel, because Crane is an adventurer.

Alepo definitely was a good match for Crane. The partners have shared an unbreakable bond.

Crane says his relationship with Alepo is only a little different from the loving relationships that humans are used to sharing with each other. Alepo will always have a home with him, he says.

Alepo continues to want to help Crane, immediately going into service mode when his old harness is temporarily strapped on so that Crane can show how the two used to walk together.

Crane ascribes attributes of loyalty to Alepo that would make a human partner blush. “He doesn’t want to give up. I think the key is that he has been trained to be a leader and to perform his function and do it accurately, and at the same time show his support and love.”

Since his partner has been sidelined, Crane has had to leave Alepo home a couple of times to go to doctor appointments. “Just coming back home he was looking at me saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on? What’s changed?” For Crane, the trips have been upsetting. He has had to revert to carrying a cane; and the possibility of falling is a fear he can’t shake. “Just getting into a car and going to a doctor without him by my side just doesn’t feel right.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter