An epilepsy diagnosis at age 9 changed Parker Rogers' life drastically. The Fresno boy was having seizures on almost daily. He no longer could attend public school, and his time with friends was limited.
Then Parker met "Toby the Great."
The yellow Labrador didn't look promising at first. Labrador Retriever Rescue of Fresno had scooped him up recently from a local shelter. Parker's mother, Mandy Rogers, recalls a thin, hyper, dirty dog with a plastic cone around his neck because he had just been neutered.
She was convinced that this was not going to be their dog. But as fate would have it, of all the dogs available for viewing that day, Parker wanted Toby. And so the Lab joined the Rogers family and changed all of their lives for the better. Shortly after taking him home in 2014 and within a year of Parker's diagnosis, Toby had taught himself how to detect his boy's seizures before they happened.
It startled Mandy Rogers the first time Toby tried to help. He was jumping on Parker, nipping at his mother's hands, and trying to herd the family into one room. Mandy called a dog trainer for advice, worried about this strange, erratic behavior — then Parker had a seizure. It turned out that Toby was trying to get Parker to sit down because he could sense a seizure coming, and was trying to alert Mandy of what was about to happen.
Since then, Toby has learned how to fetch emergency seizure medication for Parker; he'll also run to get Parker's mom when a seizure is coming on. If Parker is sitting down when a seizure is about to happen, Toby sits on the boy and doesn't let him stand up.
Parker says Toby helps him feel safe and secure. Along with being a friend, the dog has given him the confidence to be more independent.
A few months ago, Parker wrote about Toby and submitted it to the Petco Foundation for its annual Holiday Wishes campaign, which invites people to share stories about how an adopted pet changed their life for a chance to earn a donation for an animal rescue.
"I could finally sleep in my room alone, just me and Toby," Parker wrote in his story to Petco. "I can go out and ride my bike, just me and Toby. Toby's life changed, too. He went from a being a stray dog, to a rescue, to the most important part of my medical team."
Thanks to Parker's story, the Petco Foundation donated $5,000 to Labrador Retriever Rescue of Fresno — on Parker's 14th birthday — at the Petco store in Clovis, Calif.
Parker also received a gift card from Petco. The Lab rescue group has a chance of winning another $5,000 to $25,000 if it is among the top five groups during voting for a People's Choice Awards, open through Dec. 20. Voting can be done online at petcofoundation.org/holidaywishes. The Fresno Lab rescue group is one of around 50 animal groups nationwide to receive a combined $765,000 from Petco this season.
Earlier this year, Cat House on the Kings in Parlier received a $75,000 grant from Petco.
Parker hopes his story about Toby reminds people that rescue dogs are wonderful, and to give them a chance.
Labrador Retriever Rescue of Fresno found homes for 213 dogs in 2017 and rescued between 1,500 and 2,000 since becoming an incorporated nonprofit in 2010, says the group's director, Petra House.
"All that they need is a chance — adopt, don't shop," House says.
The rescue group gets their dogs from local animal shelters. The dogs live with volunteer foster parents until permanent homes can be found.
Parker describes Toby as "always happy, never sad, playful."
"Our family rescued Toby," Parker says, "but he really rescued me."