Pets

'Super service boy' Harley educated community about service dogs

Courtesy Martha EubanksHarley, a Rottweiller-Australian shepherd mix, served Martha Eubanks as a service dog for the 12- 1/2 years she had him. He also was the first service dog used in the Ocean Springs School District.
Courtesy Martha EubanksHarley, a Rottweiller-Australian shepherd mix, served Martha Eubanks as a service dog for the 12- 1/2 years she had him. He also was the first service dog used in the Ocean Springs School District.

Harley picked out Martha Eubanks as his companion when he was little more than a day old.

"He left his mom and wiggled his way over to me," she said of the day she and her boyfriend, Tim, went to look at the litter of pups they would have their pick of. "Tim kept telling me to wait, let them grow up a little, but he was mine."

Harley was Eubanks' companion and service dog for more than 12 years, until he died Saturday of chronic kidney disease.

When Eubanks began to faint and have seizures shortly after they got the dog in 2003, Harley would alert her to the symptoms. She was later diagnosed with Dysautonomia, a disorder that causes a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system, and Harley would let her know when a fainting spell or a seizure were imminent.

"He told us I was sick," Eubanks said. "He'd sit in my lap and wouldn't let me get up.

"He saved my life more than once."

The Rottweiler/Australian shepherd mix became a fixture at Eubanks' side. When he was a little more than 3 years old, Eubanks began researching service dogs and what that would entail. Her condition made it necessary to have some sort of warning system.

"It was either that (service dog) lifestyle or being housebound," she said.

A friend in Mobile guided Eubanks and Harley through public access service dog training. As a result, Harley became the first service animal in the Ocean Springs School District, where Eubanks worked in the middle school.

They were a fixture in the school system until Eubanks' medical condition forced her to medically retire in 2009.

"After I left, I'd get messages asking when Harley was coming to visit," she said. "He taught a lot of businesses about service dogs.

"As a result, I became a disability advocate and taught handlers how to handle their own issues."

Eubanks said Harley was diagnosed in 2013 with chronic kidney disease and given a prognosis of 90 days. Ever faithful, Harley continued to work as a service dog for Eubanks until just before his death on Saturday.

"He never couldn't go with me," she said, "I was told by his vet that it would be detrimental to force him not to work. It made him happy."

So much so, Eubanks said, that he would not let her Rottweiler, Makada, work with Eubanks.

Makada, who also alerts to Eubanks' symptoms, is working on her training and is an at-home service dog. It's not clear yet whether Makada will be able serve as a public access service dog.

About 20 percent of the canine population have the innate ability to sense medical issues and alert to them, Eubanks said.

But if Eubanks was going out, Harley was going with her.

As his kidney disease progressed, Harley slowed down, but Eubanks said she knew when Harley wanted something and she and Tim always made it happen for him.

"He was still working. He wanted to work last Tuesday," she said. They went to lunch, with Harley lying quietly under the table until it was time to go, then enjoying a shrimp and cheese quesedilla to go.

Eubanks said he loved the "Superman" movie and would perk up and watch the television when the movie came on.

"He was my super service boy. That's what we called him."

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