The last time Mitch Peterson was in the newspaper, he was celebrating his third year with the service animal he credits with giving him the gift of independence. Since then Peterson, who suffers from epilepsy, was featured on the “CBS Evening News.” He’s also spent more time with London, the seizure-response dog Peterson received from Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based non-profit, in 2005.
The last time Mitch Peterson was in the newspaper, he was celebrating his third year with the service animal he credits with giving him the gift of independence.
Since then Peterson, who suffers from epilepsy, was featured on the “CBS Evening News.” He’s also spent more time with London, the seizure-response dog Peterson received from Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based non-profit, in 2005.
“Every day London and me get closer,” said Peterson on Dec. 21 before an interview with a Quad-Cities television station.
London, a yellow lab-golden retriever mix that some call a “goldendor,” just turned 6, while Peterson, 24, is in his second year as a librarian at Monmouth’s Immaculate Conception School.
Peterson knows when he walks into the room that he’s not the center of attention.
“They tend to say ‘hi’ to him first,” said Peterson of London. “I’m used to it by now. He’s such a pretty dog. He’s a ham for attention, too. I don’t mind standing aside.”
ICS principal Kathryn Bennett was quick to sing Mitch’s praises in response to his last comment but adds, “The dog is just so lovable. We had to have a special class just to tell the kids of London’s role so they wouldn’t always try to play with him.”
Peterson said he rarely has issue with students.
“He interacts with the kids and calms them down,” he said.
Peterson’s role has expanded at ICS, from shelving books to reading and computer training with the students — unthinkable to him before he got London. He also does odd jobs around the school when needed.
“Mitch has just been a real blessing to our school,” Bennett said.
London, along with his two other “levels of safety” — medicine and a medical implant on Mitch’s chest that sends signal to a similar unit on London’s collar — have reduced Mitch’s seizures to a manageable level.
At one point before London, he was having up to 10 seizures an hour.
“I’ve fallen down stairs. I’ve hit my face on a concrete bench,” Peterson said.
“If London sees a seizure coming, he will keep me in that place,” Peterson said. “He’ll hop in my lap.”
In other instances, London has gotten Peterson’s wife to let her know Mitch is in trouble.
“Somehow the bond is so close, he can actually sense when something’s not right. Like when a mother knows when her child is not right. London can (do that) for me,” said Peterson.
Remarkable skills like London’s are one reason dogs like him often get mislabeled “seizure prevention dogs,” said Tib Holland, the development director at Canine Assistants.
“That’s a misnomer. We can only train them to respond,” he said.
Often though, a close enough bond will form that the dogs can anticipate the onset of seizures and prevent them or minimize them. Holland estimates about 86 percent of the roughly 100 dogs Canine Assistants places each year have this kind of bond with their owner.
“I got lucky,” Peterson said.
Of the increased attention, Peterson never gets tired of singing London’s praises, or promoting the non-profit organization that got him his service dog for free.
Canine Assistants is funded completely through private donations and covers the cost of a service animals, often upwards of $20,000, for individuals like Peterson.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I got him and was surprised when the news started calling and people started stopping me,” he said. “But I don’t mind doing it. I want to let others know that these kind of animals are available.”
Peterson told about how crowds and questions surrounded him recently at a Peoria hospital. He waited around answering all the on-looker’s questions to the best of his ability and handing out Canine Assistant business cards.
“It’s never gets old. You start thinking of gifts this time of year. He’s the best gift I’ve ever had,” he said.