FORT VALLEY, Ga. — Zac Shumate is just as active and energetic as any other 17-year-old, but unlike most teenagers, he struggles with epilepsy.
"When I first started having them it was a frightening moment each time, but as I learn to tolerate it, it just became irritating," he said.
"We were actually driving down the road and he had his first seizure in the backseat of our vehicle," his mother Casey said. "It was very unexpected. No precursors to it whatsoever."
"After I have a dizzy spell and start getting very light-headed, I black out. What I figured out I end up doing through the episode, I drool a lot. My mouth kind of goes into a smacking motion," Zac said.
He was 6 when he had his first seizure. He's had hundreds over the last decade, and his parents were worried it would have long-term effects.
"What kind of quality of life he was going to have, dealing with the seizures," his father Dewayne said. "[We] couldn't really leave him alone or get out and enjoy life like most other kids his age."
After researching for two years, they found Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers.
The nonprofit sent Training Director Erin Gray to deliver Alva, the newest member of the Shumate family.
"I'm with them for three days and then our organization comes back every three to four months to continue that training to customize exactly what needs Zac has with epilepsy," Gray said.
"He's had a really good outlook on things and has had a really good last couple of days, so we've noticed behavior-wise and cognitively some improvements in him already," Casey said.
Over the next 12 months, Alva will be trained to assist Zac when he's having a seizure and falls over and alert someone to help, so he can live his life in peace.
"I shoot shotguns competitively so I tried bringing her right next to me when I was up to shoot, and she didn't care. So far, in so little time we're seeing very good results with her," Zac said.
Casey Shumate advises anyone looking for a service dog online to beware of fake companies or scammers.