A Canine Companion Protects this Patriot

Courtney with her guide dog Zido

By Sudha Kamath

For the first time in the 11 years since she began experiencing a mysterious medical condition, a George Mason University student is getting some potentially lifesaving relief from a new, four-legged best friend.

Junior Courtney Simmons, of Springfield, Va., suffers from a condition that causes her to black out for up to 45 minutes about four times a month. But now  Zido (pronounced “zee-dough”), her 2-year-old service dog, is able to guide and protect her on campus and off, 24/7. The yellow Labrador senses Simmons’ heart issues, blood pressure changes and migraines, even before Simmons does.

Simmons first started experiencing symptoms when she was 10 years old. Initially, she blacked out about once a month, and each episode lasted about 20 minutes. Neurologists have not been able to pinpoint all the causes of her rare condition. So Simmons reached out to Canine Partners for Life in Pennsylvania to find a service dog to help her cope. It took her and her family almost a year—and thousands of dollars along with money from fundraising—to bring Zido home.

For three weeks this October, Simmons, supported by her mother, Susan, trained with Zido at the Chester County, Pa., facility. Their on-site training involved maneuvering obstacle courses and practicing service skills such as picking up objects, as well as off-site visits to restaurants and shopping malls.

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