MARLOW, Okla. — This is not a story about a boy and his dog but a story about what the dog means to the boy.
The full-grown yellow Labrador named Cale is never far from the side of the slightly built Seth Olvera, 12. When the pair is separated, the dog’s eyes watches the boy’s every move.
They are not just playmates, Cale is a service dog trained to detect when Seth might be close to having a seizure, the result of having cerebral palsy.
“When Seth is not feeling well Cale comes to you and his head will be dropped and you can just tell because he comes to you, and then he’ll go back to Seth,” said Seth’s mother Rebecca Olvera.
The parents then provide medication to their son in order to reduce the effects of the seizure.
Cale has been a part of the Olvera family since last May with both the family and the dog continuing the training regimen which started when Cale was an 8-week-old pup.
The dog goes with Seth as many places as possible including to the boy’s sixth-grade class at Marlow Middle School.
At the Marlow Christmas parade Cale, Seth, his father, Ruben, and Santa rode on top of a Central High Volunteer Fire Department firetruck.
Cale came to the Olvera family from A New Leash On Life Inc., a nonprofit agency located in Oklahoma City that provides service and therapy dogs.
Cale was certified as a service dog, and A New Leash On Life CEO Barbara Lewis made sure the pair were suited for each other.
“The longer they are together the more they will bond,” she said.
Olvera agreed, saying, “The bond between the two is getting stronger all the time.”
She said there have been some days when Seth has been at school, leaving the dog at home, and Cale will stand at the window just waiting for him to return.
“Most of the time Cale is perfect, but he is still a dog,” Olvera said, noting his biggest bad habit is eating things he shouldn’t.
The training process has taken more then a year for the dog to reach this point.
For several months before being given to the Olvera family, Cale was trained by Anabelle Conner, with specifically designed training just for Seth.
“During the first two weeks of school Cale notified Seth’s teacher he was struggling,” Olvera said.
Amanda Eberhart, a second-year special-education teacher, said this is the first time she has had a service dog in her classroom, but he has not been a problem.
“Seth is different when Cale is here, more confident,” she said. “We want people to understand the dog is here for a reason,” and that is helping Seth.
While Seth goes to band she takes Cale to another special-education classroom where he is used as a therapy dog.
“When he comes in the students (in that class) just light up,” Eberhart said.
Olvera said there have been some adjustments the family has had to make, but all in all, having Cale as a part of the family has been positive.
“It was kind of scary getting a service dog,” the stay-at-home mom said. “And it’s a lot of work.” She said that most importantly the dog has made a big difference in her son’s life.
“Before I would never let him go outside to play because I was afraid of what might happen. Now he can go out and run and play.”
Seth said having Cale has changed his life.
“He’s always there for me,” Seth said. “He keeps an eye on me and I feel safer.”
Lewis agreed, saying, “People with service dogs do feel safer.”
While the dog’s primary job is to detect seizures before they occur he also performs other duties. “When I drop something he will grab it and pick it up for me,” Connor said.
She said Cale was trained to help Seth balance when he is going up and down steps. But Seth also looks after Cale. “He likes to read with me, but I don’t like to read him scary books, because I don’t what him to have doggie nightmares,” he said.
At night the service dog sleeps in Seth’s bedroom and, even though he has his own dog bed, Seth said Cale often crawls into bed and sleeps with him.
Even though Cale is a service dog — when they are out he wears a vest which shows he is a service dog — there are some businesses that are reluctant to allow the dog to enter.
“We have had a problem with some businesses that don’t want a dog around,” Olvera said.
When they go out to eat the first thing he does is lay down under the table, she said.
Lewis said, “Some people do have an attitude about service dogs. They don’t realize they are not a novelty or a pet. And some businesses make owners’ and service dogs’ lives miserable.”
She added this is why it’s so important to educate people about the importance of service dogs.
“Service dogs are working dogs and need to be used. ... They need to be kept mentally sharp,” Lewis said.