Laughing is life-threatening for nine-year-old Millie, but her dog can sense when she is in danger

Millie Webb, 9, with one-year-old Elmo.
Millie Webb, 9, with one-year-old Elmo. Photo: Webb Family/GoFundMe

Too much happiness is dangerous for nine-year-old Millie Webb.

The primary school student from Cheshire, UK has a type of epilepsy where emotional extremes, such as happiness or laughing, trigger seizures. Everyday activities that healthy kids take for granted, such as swimming, birthday parties and even playing with friends, can easily bring on a seizure for young Millie - often as many as sixty seizures of all different intensities per day. 

Millie was diagnosed at age four with Refractory Epilepsy, a condition which cannot be controlled by medication. With such a serious and potentially fatal illness, Millie's parents, Stuart and Linda Webb have had to curtail her activities in addition to removing her from mainstream schooling.

Linda and Stuart Webb with Millie and pet Elmo.
Linda and Stuart Webb with Millie and pet Elmo. Photo: Image:

But the increased time at home has seen Millie spending lots of time with the family dogs, resulting in a remarkable, yet unintended outcome. Elmo - one of the family's two Bichon Frise dogs - senses when Millie is about to have a fit and attempts to alert the family ahead of time.

While one-year-old Elmo requires further training in methods of raising the alarm, his senses are perfectly calibrated to detect signs of an impending seizure. When Millie had a fit in a paddling pool, Elmo ran over and tried to drag her out. He also responds to noises she makes and licks her face which both removes saliva she could choke on and attempts to bring her gently out of the fit.

Then in June, Elmo took his wonderdog powers to a whole other level when he jumped onto the sofa to lick Millie's face in a pre-emptive warning she was about to have a seizure. Her parents at first tried to shoo him away, then realised Millie had started to fit.

'It was the first time we'd seen Elmo alert us to it before the seizure,' Mr Webb told the Daily Mail, adding "We think Elmo's got the gift to help Millie - we just need someone with the experience to teach her.'

The family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with the costs of training Elmo to further refine his skills in alerting Stuart and Linda. So far they haven't had any luck locating a trainer able to turn Elmo into an expert assistance dog, but they refuse to be deterred.

'Elmo doesn't need to be trained in how to pick up on seizures, she already has that, she just needs the proper training to alert us,' says Mrs Webb, who hopes that one day Elmo can accompany Millie wherever she goes. 

After trying more than 12 medications that have had no effect on her epilepsy, having an assistance animal would allow Millie to do more of the things that healthy nine-year-olds do, such as riding her bike and socialising.

'Sometimes we just want her to sit and watch TV but she loves the outdoors and wants to be outside with her friends on her bike and her roller skates... she wants to play out in the streets with her friends and live life to the full,' says dad Stuart.

You can find the Webb family's GoFundMe campaign here. So far, £235 of the £1,000 goal has been raised.