Most people going to work leave their pets at home, but not Danny Lim. When the American Red Cross volunteer from Boston showed up for his shift as a client caseworker at Greater New York headquarters in Manhattan, he always had Cortez the Chihuahua with him.
Cortez isn’t just any dog—he’s a service dog and has a tiny red and black vest to prove it. He’s trained to warn the 24-year-old Lim, who suffers from seizures, about the onset of an episode.
During the two weeks Lim volunteered before flying home March 19, the black and tan long-hair Chihuahua quietly sat on a desk near Lim’s computer, watching his owner work and making himself available for pats and rubs.
“He’s made a big change in my life,” Lim said. “I really lucked out with his personality. He’s more than a service dog. He’s my best friend.”
Along with the other volunteers in the Red Cross Recovery Records section, Lim helped keep track of clients in the system to ensure they get the assistance they need. The volunteers also take information received at the Red Cross call center and pass it the right areas for assistance.
Lim got his five-year-old companion as a pup and they have been together ever since. At home, Lim works as an events manager for corporations and Cortez often is with him.
Seizures occur because of sudden, abnormal electrical activity in the brain. There are several types, and some have mild symptoms. Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes and don’t cause lasting harm.
Lim said he has suffered from seizures in the past, usually at night. His last one was about three years ago and Cortez started barking about 15 minutes before the episode.
“He can tell from the change of smell of a person who is about to have a seizure,” Lim said.
This few minutes advance notice gives Lim time to find a safe place to lie down and put pillows around him to prevent injury. Lim said there are no side effects and no need to go to a hospital emergency room after an episode passes.
Lim said Cortez is among fewer than 20 percent of dogs who, after training and testing, can be used as a service dog for people with seizures.
“He’s like a security blanket.”
When Red Cross volunteers finish an assignment, they receive an evaluation of their work. Cortez made such a hit that Lim’s supervisor, Claudia Kelly, of Medina, Minn., created a special evaluation of Cortez complete with a photograph of him.
“It was done as a joke, but it was also true,” she said. “He really made a huge difference.”
The evaluation noted that Cortez “showed particular skills in calming and amusing building guests and this ability was very useful in creating an environment in which clients felt appreciated and well-served.”
Kelly said Cortez also would keep tabs on how hard the Red Cross volunteers were working. There were times when the dog would exercise his will by sitting on a stack of paperwork.
“It was like he was saying it was time for a break. He was a perceptive dog and could tell when the stress was building up,” Kelly said.