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Belonging to Each Other: A labradoodle to lean on

Six feet stand on the rain-soaked grounds of Eugene, Oregon. Two belong to Molly Neher, a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. The other four belong to Reid, a personable labradoodle who helps Molly handle life with seizures in a way that nothing else can.

Four years ago, Molly was hit in the head with a full beer can, causing a concussion that led to bleeding in her brain. Two months later, she started experiencing frequent seizures related to the injury. With seizures occurring upwards of ten times a day, she was left with little independence. The unpredictability of when one would occur riddled even simple everyday acts with uncertainty.  

That uncertainty dissolved when Reid began to detect Molly’s seizures six weeks after he arrived in her life. “I was able to cross the street by myself again,” Molly said. “That was a pretty big life improvement. My parents weren’t letting me go up the stairs by myself. Sometimes, in acts of rebellion, I would.”

Reid detects and responds to Molly’s seizures before they happen and alerts her with a nudge and an urgent look in his eyes. Reid is trained for seizure response — he lays next to Molly and acts as a buffer to keep her safe. He licks her arms and gets her moving again. He stays by her side and rests with her. There is no way, however, to train an animal to detect seizures, Molly said. It’s something that just happens naturally.

Vest on, Reid is alert and attentive to Molly. At home, he’s a goof who likes to mooch food off of Molly’s roommates Lilly and Kat, all while running around with a chewed up blanket in his mouth. He chases his tail and barks at strangers passing by their apartment’s front window. He plays fetch and gets excited for treats. Reid is a dog, after all, and although he looks after Molly, she still has a large role to play in his life as well — something that she’ll do without question.

When the summertime temperatures radiate throughout Oregon, Molly must choose whether or not it’s worth it to bring Reid absolutely everywhere she goes. The heat  

makes Molly more susceptible to her seizures and presents dangers to dogs like Reid.

Molly has to gauge whether or not she should bring Reid with her, and won’t if there is potential dangers to Reid — even if that means she risks having an unexpected seizure.

“I’ll choose his health over mine any time,” she says.

Molly’s roommate Lilly says she and Reid are two peas in a pod. And there’s really no other way to put it. Where Molly goes, Reid goes. They’re in synch, and Molly’s just as attentive to Reid as he is to her. They rely on each other with every step those six feet take. If he’s looking up at her, odds are their eyes will meet because she’s looking at him too.

Molly Neher is a fifth-year student studying anthropology and psychology at the University of Oregon. After Molly started experiencing frequent seizures, she had to drop out of school for a year. At the time, Molly didn’t think she would graduate. Now, she is finishing her last term at UO and hopes to use her degree to go into a nonprofit field dealing with disability advocacy. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid is Molly’s service dog. He is a labradoodle trained in seizure response and eventually figured out how to detect Molly’s seizures before they happen. Passersby tend to comment on Reid’s breed whenever Molly is out with him. “He’s not a Wolfhound,” Molly says. “He’s not an Irish Wolfhound, not a Russian Wolfhound, not a Siberian Wolfhound. Not a Wolfhound!” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

“I was really surprised by how big he was. I wasn’t expecting him to be so tall,” Molly says. “I remember the first time he came to my house, I had no idea how to handle a dog at all. I was really nervous. I thought he was really sad because he has these sad eyes sometimes.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

At their worst, Molly’s seizures occurred roughly ten times a day. She quickly began looking into service dogs and found Reid, who was trained for the first eight months of his life in a prison facility program where inmates train dogs. Reid learned how to respond to Molly’s seizures and eventually started to detect them on his own, which allows Molly to find a safe place to let the seizure pass. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Molly figures out how to readjust Reid’s harness after putting his raincoat on him. She has a lot of responsibilities to consider when handling a service dog in public, like making him shake the Oregon rain from his fur before entering public buildings, so he won’t do it inside. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid typically accompanies Molly wherever she goes, including the grocery store, cafes and the Knight Library. Molly explains that making sure Reid is well-behaved is important, but some dogs will have their moments. “Sometimes, out of nowhere, he’ll bark. It’s happened in the library once or twice,” Molly says, “and it’s mortifying. Mortifying. And he’s under the table too, so no one even knows there’s a dog.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

For the first eight months of his life, Reid was trained in a prison facility program where inmates train the dogs. From there, Molly needed to learn how to continue training Reid and how to handle him in public. “I had to learn how to train,” Molly says. “My trainer was a huge support. I’m still friends with her to this day. Any time [Reid] made a small improvement, she’d point that out and make me realize how great that was.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)
Molly’s room is decorated with Charlie Hebdo posters and a map of Paris. She grew up just outside of Paris and moved to Oregon when she was 16. “I’m still not used to American culture,” Molly says. “I still have moments where I’m like ‘What is that?’ ‘What does that mean?’ Her boyfriend Brad “was explaining what bagel bites were the other day,” Molly says. “He was like, ‘you’ve never had bagel bites? Did you not grow up in the ‘90s?’ ‘I did, but in France. We don’t have bagel bites there.'” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Four-year-old Reid wags his tail while chewing on a shredded blanket. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid gets up from his bed that sits right next to Molly’s. “I think I actually bonded to him pretty quickly,” she says. “I was the one that fed him. I was the one that took him out… he understood that he’s my dog.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid takes off from his bed as Molly shows him his fetch toy. “I’m kind of embarassed about it because it looks like a phallus,” Molly jokes about the toy. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid and Molly play fetch behind their apartment. Vest on, Reid is fairly reserved, but vest off, he’s full of energy and ready to go. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

(Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Molly recalls the first time she played with Reid. They were outside and playing with a stuffed animal. “He was shredding it to pieces and then he threw up. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I freaked out, I called my trainer.” “‘Oh, he’s fine. Dogs do that,” her trainer said. “It was literally the first day that I had him and he threw up because I fed him a toy.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Reid’s presence in Molly’s life allowed her to gain her independence back. “It was a pretty big life improvement,” she says. “My parents weren’t letting me go up the stairs by myself. Sometimes, in acts of rebellion, I would.” (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

(Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

 

Reid shakes off while Molly gives him a bath. At the Suds ‘em Yourself Dog Wash in Eugene, it’s okay to be wet indoors, but “you don’t want a dog shaking off in a restaurant and getting his dog stuff all over the place,” she says. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

(Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

(Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

“I’ll choose his health over mine anytime,” Molly says. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

(Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

Molly gets out of a car with Reid at the Eugene Airport at 3 a.m. “If I’m out without him, it feels weird,” she says. Molly officially graduated from UO several hours earlier. Now, she’s getting on a plane to speak at the ClickerExpo in St. Louis. (Sarah Northrop/Ethos)

 

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