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December 30, 2008
'Thrown Away' Dog Saves Little Girl's Life
Though he was once left to die in a garbage bin, a Terrier mix has found new purpose in caring for and protecting a little girl with a rare neurological disorder.
LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. -- When the Pieters family adopted Jack, a dog once left to die in a dumpster, they hoped he would act as a constant companion to their daughter, Maya.
They never considered that the Terrier mix would also save the little girl's life, on more than one occasion.
Jack's loyalty -- and keen senses -- have proved that one person's trash can truly become another's treasure.
Just ask 8-year-old Maya, who inspired her family's trip to the Humane League of Lancaster County in 2004. When the Pieters saw how seamlessly Maya bonded with Jack, he had nowhere to go but out of the kennel, and into their home.
"Maya was down on her knees and her face as close to the gate as can be and he's licking her and I heard Maya talk more then to him then she had in a whole week," recalled Maya's mother, Michelle Pieters, of their first encounter with the dog.
The connection was exceptional for the young girl, whose condition forces her to struggle with normal oral and social functions.
When Maya was 3-years-old she was diagnosed with congenital bilateral perisylvian syndrome, an extremely rare condition that only 100 to 200 people in the world are reported to have.
The disease affects Maya's oral motor functions -- such as speech and swallowing -- and could cause seizures. But it also took a toll on Maya's self esteem. Always left out by other children, Maya became very withdrawn at a young age.
Maya's speech therapist, Donna Buss, suggested the Pieters family get a dog in 2003. She thought it might benefit Maya's socialization skills. Buss says Maya's shyness made their sessions difficult -- at the time, very little progress was being made.
So the Pieters launched a search to adopt the perfect dog. It took one year to find one that Maya felt comfortable with -- but the wait, in the end, was all the more worthwhile.
Though flea infested and dirty, Jack was the miracle for which the Pieters were searching.
Maya bonded with Jack instantly and the connection would prove more significant than Maya or her parents could have ever predicted.
Jack was sleeping in his crate one morning last year, when suddenly, without apparent provocation, he leaped from his bed and darted up the steps to Maya's room. The door was closed, but Jack sensed that Maya was inside -- and that she, for whatever reason, needed help.
The dog began to relentlessly claw and bark at the door, until Maya's family took notice of the dog's frantic state.
Jack, the Pieters realized, knew exactly what he was doing. Maya was found in her room, having her first seizure in her sleep.
Jack's urgent response to Maya's seizure probably saved her life, as the seizure was a new, unprecedented symptom of her condition.
The Pieters took to calling the little shelter dog "Maya's guardian angel."
Since that first episode, Maya has suffered other seizures. Each time, Jack has been able to preemptively sense when Maya is about to have a seizure. He has broken her fall, sat on top of her to help settle her convulsing body, and when she finally wakes up, licks her tears dry.
Jack has helped Maya in other ways as well. Upon adopting the dog, Maya's oral motor functions have improved drastically. Before Jack, Maya did not speak very often and was very sensitive to her face being touched.
Jack has helped Maya overcome these problems with routine face lickings, playtime and simply standing in as Maya's constant companion.
All of these accomplishments led to Jack's nomination for the Humane Society of the United State's "Valor Dog of the Year," an award to honor and celebrate dogs that have performed extraordinary acts of courage.
Jack competed against heroic dogs across the country, and although he didn't win the main prize, he was granted the "People's Choice" award.
Jack may have no idea he is nationally known for his good deeds. All he knows is someone once gave up on him, threw him away like a piece of trash.
And now, he is loved by a family, cherished by a little girl. In return, as much as Maya Pieters gave him a new chance at life, Jack has given her the same gift, as well.