Donors help Island Falls family buy service dog for 5-year-old girl

Faith McNally, 5, the adopted daughter of Bruce and Beverly McNally of Island Falls, suffers from spina bifida and life-threatening seizures. She poses here with her black Labrador retriever, Dandy, who serves as an assistance dog to help her cope with her seizures.
Michele King
Faith McNally, 5, the adopted daughter of Bruce and Beverly McNally of Island Falls, suffers from spina bifida and life-threatening seizures. She poses here with her black Labrador retriever, Dandy, who serves as an assistance dog to help her cope with her seizures.
Posted April 22, 2013, at 6:28 p.m.

ISLAND FALLS, MAINE — An Island Falls family is grateful for the support of donors from around the state and nation who helped their 5-year-old daughter raise money to secure a service dog.

Faith McNally suffers from spina bifida and life-threatening seizures.

Despite the child’s numerous health problems, Bruce and Beverly McNally of Island Falls took Faith into their home, first as a foster child and then as their adopted daughter.

While learning to adjust their lifestyles and manage schedules to meet the new challenges, the couple soon realized they needed help monitoring the special child for seizures, which could be deadly if not addressed in a timely fashion.

Michele King, Faith’s aunt, said that Faith once had a serious seizure in bed at night and was found unresponsive. That led the family to seek a service dog that could detect when Faith was going to have a seizure.

“The family became very worried, which is why they wanted to get the dog,” said King, who also is the chief administrative officer for Brave Hearts, a nonprofit Christian home for young men located in Island Falls. “Brave Hearts decided to sponsor a fundraiser in March to see if we could raise the $2,500 that was needed to get the animal and to send them out to Kansas for the training.”

King said that donations came from not only the more than 100 people who attended the benefit supper, but from people as far away as North Carolina. Because of that generosity, the family was able to get the black Labrador retriever, Dandy, from CARES — Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services. It is a not-for-profit organization in Concordia, Kansas, that trains and matches assistance dogs with owners.

“Dandy has just been wonderful for Faith,” Beverly McNally said on Friday. “She picks up on a chemical change in the body when a seizure occurs. One day when we got back, Faith was very lethargic. She was in the chair with me and needed to be snuggled a lot more. And the dog got up in the chair and started whining. And I didn’t realize what was going on. And 45 minutes later, Faith had a seizure. Then I realized what the dog was trying to tell me.”

She said that the dog now knows 75 commands and wears a vest to let people know when it is working.

The McNallys also have a 4-year-old boy living in the home.

“It was hard at first, but now he knows that when the dog has the vest on, it is working and he can’t play with it,” she said. “And one of the hardest things when we are out in the community is seeing little kids and they want to come up and pet the dog, but you have to tell them that they can’t, because the dog is working with Faith.”

She said that the family is “overwhelmed” by the generosity they saw from friends and strangers.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” she said on Friday. “We eventually had enough money and we had to gently turn people away. We had to tell them that we had enough for the dog, but that we wanted them to donate the money to a charity of their own choosing.”

McNally said that she and her husband are happy that Faith has been able to get the dog and they also are happy with the choice that they made.

“Overall, we are glad that we stepped out of our comfort zone and took in a high-needs foster child,” she said. “We would encourage others not to be afraid to do the same. These kids need good homes.”

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