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Maitland group helps raise money for injured service dog

Guide dogs help far more than just leading the blind.

Guide dogs help far more than just leading the blind.

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This is not another story about a hateful, unprovoked pit bull attack. Rather, it is a story of the unshakable bond between two of its victims: Marie, a 1-year-old medical alert service dog and her beloved companion and disabled friend, 10-year-old Ilse.

Ilse was born with cerebral palsy and partial blindness. To complicate matters, at the age of 4, she was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, leaving her parents in fear of prolonged seizures, like the one that left her comatose on March 13, 2011.

Despite her medical setbacks, Ilse is a typical pre-adolescent girl. She loves soccer, books about animals, and science is her favorite subject. Ilse also loves Marie, a golden retriever-mix who’s her specially trained medical alert service dog and best friend. Marie has been by her side for the past year.

Marie’s training was filled with togetherness. Marie accompanied Ilse everywhere, learning to carry emergency medications, and to recognize pre-seizure indicators to alert the family of oncoming emergencies. Marie was socialized continuously, from regular trips to the nearby Publix, to riding beside Ilse on theme park rides, so she could remain composed and fearless under all types of situations. Marie also slept beside Ilse. “She was a best friend, a security blanket and a lifeline who never left Ilse unsupervised. One that’s wrapped up in a lovable furry package,” her mother, Limaris Sanchez, said.

This past March, Marie was given her last test prior to becoming a certified medical service animal. Marie, along with her trainer, Donna Neff, accompanied Ilse’s family to Miami Children’s Hospital, where Ilse’s doctors were trying to locate and remove the focal point of her seizures. Marie did not leave Ilse’s side the entire time, and passed her certification with flying colors. Unfortunately, Ilse’s doctors were unable to locate the center of her seizure activity, and the surgery was canceled. While the family was disappointed, worse news lay in wait just around the corner.

As they were exiting the hotel elevator to return home, a pit bull turned a quick corner into the path of the unsuspecting family, which included Ilse, her sister Ada, and trainer, Donna. The pit bull latched onto the unsuspecting Marie, who as a golden retriever/lab mix is specifically bred for non-aggression. Marie’s wounds required immediate medical attention “and were treated by the same vets who care for the K-9 units,” Limaris said. “Though Marie has been physically stitched up, Ilse’s safety net needs extensive repair through love, re-socialization and re-training,” Donna said.

How you can help:

To make a donation on behalf of Ilse and Marie, please send a check to ABS Dog Services c/o Ilse and Marie, 6335 Brenton Pointe, Orlando Fl, 32829 (Visit Absangelsforilse.com for photos)

To find out more about wishes for kids or to make a donation, visit www.newhopeforkids.org

Ilse and her parents were horrified and shocked by the turn of events, and unfortunately, so was Marie, who is no longer fearless and lost her service certification. However, Marie has not lost her best friend and constant companions — Ilse and her family. In July the family restarted the training process and Ilse’s family has become “foster parents” to other dogs to help offset the additional costs. But hundreds of hours of socialization and instruction await them. “The family is hoping to locate a kind-hearted sponsor for assistance,” Donna said.

Earlier this month, Ilse and her family were in New York City taking in the fireworks thanks to Wishes for Kids, a part of Maitland’s New Hope for Kids and their award-winning University of Central Florida student team The Wishing Wand, which helped raise the necessary funds. Marie stayed behind for extensive re-training sessions.

For a time, Ilse and Marie have switched places, their unshakable bond as strong as ever. Ilse remained composed at a New Hope fundraiser at Mojitos Lounge in late June as Marie struggled to regain her footing, hiding in the background as a crowd milled around the dance floor. After a week in the Big Apple, Ilse is on to her next wish, to help Marie feel like “top dog” once again.

Pamela Ruben is an Orlando author, teacher and social action writer.