Two-year-old Twyla Leaper loves the big stuffed dog that resides in her room.
She also likes the real thing and wants a dog of her own some day.
But Twyla doesn't just want a dog, she needs one. And she doesn't need one some day, she needs one soon.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Twyla Leaper, 2, of Altoona will hopefully soon have a real dog to help her when she experiences seizures.
Twyla has been suffering from seizures for more than a year due to the presence of both a lesion and a cyst on her brain. The hope is that the seizure dog - whether by alerting her parents hours in advance of an attack or helping her with clumsiness when she suffers from partial seizures - can give Twyla some independence and comfort as she grows up living with this health issue.
"Pretty much, we live in the hospital between both of our kids," said Twyla's mother, Sunday Leaper, 27, of Altoona. Her 3-month-old son, Tempest, is also exhibiting signs of health problems. "[Twyla] can get really bad days where she can't walk, she can't function at all. We have to hold her and she just wants to get down and play and get into things.
"But she just can't do it because of getting hurt. So we hold her and let her cry, or try to distract her by doing coloring or something like that."
As soon as Sunday and her husband, Waylon, 29, were told about seizure assistance dogs, they knew they wanted one for Twyla. But in an effort to fundraise the $7,000 it costs to get one, the couple has encountered setbacks, including low attendance at events and having to switch organizations that provide the dog.
"It was the hardest thing, trying to get all the paperwork started from the doctors. Then switching organizations was really hard," Sunday said.
"We weren't getting anywhere," Waylon added about events like spaghetti dinners, where they'd pay out of pocket to feed up to 300 people and only 50 would show up. "I've tried to organize rides. I've tried to get people I know together. They'd rather donate a few bucks than do something big."
The nonprofit service dog training and adoption group Amazing Tails, based in Oxford and for whom the Leapers are raising funds, is structured so that any individual or family that needs a dog gets the best opportunity to receive one.
"We wanted to be of service to [recipients] instead of them applying," said Siobhan Cameron, a co-founder and trainer for Amazing Tails. "We wanted our clients to be active participants."
Amazing Tails was started in 1999 and trains dogs to help with any disability other than vision loss, including deafness, diabetes and paralysis. They also don't breed dogs, and judge each client on a case-by-case basis.
"We started rescuing dogs, and the rest is history," Cameron said.
A seizure assistance dog will be trained to alert Twyla's parents in advance of a seizure, Cameron said. The hope is that as she gets older, Twyla will pick up on the signs herself.
"Hopefully, over the next couple years, Twyla can be self-managing of her own seizures," Cameron said. "When you take the fear of injury out of [seizures], it just becomes another one of the day's events. It's a lot less damaging."
Waylon and Sunday said it will be amazing what the dog will be able to do for their daughter, by both improving her life and giving her independence.
"When Twyla grows up, eventually she's going to want to go do her own things," Waylon said. "Obviously, we can't be there to hold her hand at all times."
"That's the biggest thing with her right now, she wants her independence" Sunday added. "She doesn't like us being constantly over her. She likes to be in a room by herself, but she can't. She wants to play in the yard, but we have to be down there or up here. ... I think the dog will help her with that."
Anyone interested in making a donation to Amazing Tails for Twyla Leaper's seizure assistance dog can visit www.amazingservicedogs.com or send a check to 651 Scroggy Road, Oxford, Pa. 19363.
The Leapers are also looking for volunteers to work at upcoming fundraising events. Anyone interested can call Sunday Leaper at 414-2889.