Grateful American Kids

A Furry Angel
From Shelter Dog to Service Dog

Written by Hanin Yahfoufi & Illustrated by Fahed Abu Shoer
For the series A BOOK by ME - True Stories Written by Kids for Kids

March 23: National Puppy Day

I worked with high school exchange students from developing countries and my students always enjoyed learning the traditions of their host families. During the fall semester of 2019 my kiddos loved going to school, after school activities, hanging out with friends, belonging to sports teams, theater, choir, etc. Suddenly we were on lock down during the spring semester. Not much fun in doing school remotely and no activities whatsoever. It was hard on everyone but especially these kids here on a once in a lifetime experience. As we grieved the loss of prom night and graduation, I talked to Leo and Hanin, both from Lebanon, about a book project my student from Pakistan had just completed. She wrote about a therapy horse named Pete touching the lives of kids with disabilities. They were interested in doing a similar project with a heroic four legged friend. That’s how we met Jasper and his family and we marveled how this dog found in a shelter could be trained and end up saving a little girl’s life. We all learned more about life and love from this fantastic story about a furry angel.

Deb Bowen

“What a great honor it was to go meet a nice family and new furry friend named Jasper, when we were foreign exchange students to the Quad Cities in Spring of 2020. To learn firsthand about this family’s journey with their youngest daughter Kellsey’s diagnosis of epilepsy was eye opening. Epileptic seizures can be dangerous. It was mind blowing to learn that this dog, found in a dog pound, could be trained to be a service dog who ultimately saves Kellsey’s life.”
Author Hanin Yahfoufi and Illustrator Fahed “Leo” Abu Shoer

More about A Furry Angel: From Shelter Dog to Service Dog

A Furry Angel: From Shelter Dog to Service Dog is available on Amazon.

Jasper: The Furry Angel – Service Dog Extraordinaire

Colin and Brandi McGuire were very excited on October 11, 2005 when their fourth child Kellsey was born. She was beautiful and healthy. Her older siblings Savanah, Kennedy and Garrett were thrilled to find out they had a new baby sister. The family lived in rural Illinois and had a happy life. Kellsey’s first year was filled with the usual first words and first steps, and everything seemed normal until June 28, 2007. At lunchtime, the family was out to eat, and Brandi noticed Kellsey smacking her lips and acting sleepy. They went home right away, and the baby went down for a nap. Twenty minutes later Savanah asked her mother to go check on Kellsey.

When Brandi went into the nursery, she found the baby lying on her back, unresponsive and blue. At first, Brandi thought Kellsey had choked on something, so she stuck her fingers down the baby’s throat. That didn’t work, so she got all the kids in the car and raced to the hospital. The doctors began working on Kellsey until she responded. Although she was responsive, she was still having seizures, one right after another. The doctors believed that Kellsey had 90 seizures that day. She needed an EEG, which could not be performed locally, so she was transferred to the Children’s Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. After tests, it was apparent she had no brain damage, but she was diagnosed with epilepsy. She was prescribed medicine and sent home.

As Kellsey grew, and her family adjusted to her having epileptic seizures, her parents became convinced that she needed a service dog. In their research they learned that seizure response dogs can be trained to assist. If they bond well enough with each child, they may be able to detect seizures before they happen and become a seizure alert dog. The dogs are capable of assisting their assigned person before, during and after seizures. These dogs go everywhere their partners go, even to school or to work.

When Kellsey was three years old, her parents learned that she could not get one of these dogs until she was eight. Waiting was hard, but they understood that a child has to be older to learn to use the commands needed for a service dog. Another obstacle was money. It cost $10,000 for the training necessary to become a good service dog. That’s a lot for any family, so fundraisers were the answer. Their friends, extended family and community members came together for Kellsey.

Finally, the day came when Kellsey was old enough to begin the process. The McGuire’s learned that shelter dogs often make very good service dogs. Most animals that end up in shelters are as loving, smart and loyal as any other dogs. Dogs of any breed can become suitable service dogs. A two-year-old black lab was found at a nearby shelter in Galesburg, Illinois. Because of anxiety, he had lost some hair, but after some treatments his hair grew back and he was good as new. Jasper became Kellsey’s service dog, her new best friend and her angel.

Jasper was trained by Disability Assistance Dogs (DAD). Training was tough. Service dogs have to learn commands and how to get in and out of a car. They must be comfortable going to malls, grocery stores, elevators, etc. A service dog has to be well-mannered at all times. Each service dog must pass a public access test, so the training is very important.

To become her service dog, Jasper also had to learn things specifically related to epilepsy. For one thing, Kellsey opens her eyes during a seizure, even if it happens in her sleep. Jasper learned to watch and listen for signs that she might have a seizure. He learned how to open the bedroom door and go get her parents if they were needed. Kellsey’s parents began telling people, “When Kellsey stops breathing, Jasper is our furry angel.”

Kellsey’s mom remembers a time during Christmas break when Kellsey was not into her regular bedtime routine. Because lack of sleep can sometimes cause seizures, her mom put her to bed early to try to help. About an hour after Kellsey fell asleep, Jasper began barking and whining. Mom rushed to her room and found Kellsey was just coming out of a seizure. Jasper was frantic and panting. Both Jasper and Mom stayed with Kellsey that night.

Another big obstacle arose less than one month after Jasper began attending school with Kellsey. In defiance of the American with Disabilities Act, Kellsey’s elementary school refused to allow her to attend classes with her service dog. Kellsey was devastated, and her parents immediately enrolled her at a private school, where the principal assured her that Jasper would be welcome in all the classrooms. Kellsey’s mom Brandi became determined that this situation would never happen to another child. She worked to have legislation written to protect children with service animals. The legislation states that all teachers must read and adhere to the ADA rules and regulations.

Jasper was right by Kellsey’s side in the classrooms at Jordan Catholic School. Jasper would alert the teachers if Kellsey’s anxiety was high. He would walk in circles around a teacher or lay on Kellsey’s feet. He would do the same thing at home, too. A teacher who became like family to Kellsey and Jasper was Miss P (Debbie Patronegrio).

When Kellsey was ten years old, the school called her mom and said something was wrong with Jasper. It appeared he was having a seizure himself. Brandi rushed him to the veterinarian. They did tests and learned that Jasper had epilepsy, so he began having to take medicine, too. What is interesting is that Kellsey has not had a seizure since that day!

Jasper was there with Kellsey every day from second grade to seventh grade. At the beginning of her eighth-grade year, the furry angel was getting older and began to snore very loudly in the classroom. Everyone decided that it was time for Jasper to retire. Of course, he still lives with Kellsey and her family and is a very important part of the family.

A young classmate once had this to say about Kellsey and Jasper: “The first time I met Kellsey and her service dog, Jasper, was in my second-grade year. I remember all my classmates and I sitting on a rug, and my teacher telling us all about Kellsey and Jasper before they came to my school. When they came, all the grades gathered in the gymnasium, and we were told more about what Jasper does for Kellsey. Everyone got to pet him, and I looked forward to them being in my class. A few years have gone by, and I remember Jasper always brought a smile to everyone’s face, whether they were young or old. In my fifth- and sixth-grade years, I got to know Kellsey a little more and helped her take Jasper outside so he could do his business and get him water.”


A BOOK by ME, a book series developed by Deb Bowen, empowers students to preserve history by telling the story of unsung heroes in our communities. For the young participants, it’s a guided cross-curricular project that gathers stories of people who do amazing things but have received little or no recognition. Students learn how to publish a picture book that is a primary source document with photographs and a biography.

Since 2003, Deb Bowen has been arranging meetings between students and individuals from the WWII generation. This intergenerational storytelling results in unique storybooks written and illustrated by kids for kids in the A BOOK by ME series. More about Deb Bowen >

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