The dog in the yearbook? Meet Taxi Benke, the service dog for 14-year-old Rachel Benke, who suffers from epileptic seizures. Smack dab in the rows of smiling teen faces in the Hector Garcia Middle School yearbook is one face that most definitely stands out – Taxi, the beloved dog that has been trained to sense when Rachel is about to have a seizure.
Rachel and her family, who live in San Antonio, have been coping with her epileptic seizures since she was just an infant. As she was approaching her sixth birthday, her condition had worsened to the point where Rachel was enduring close to 200 seizures a day. She could still only eat baby food, and could barely talk.
But two corrective brain surgeries later, six-year-old Rachel began to respond. Her mom, Teresa, said the results were unbelievable. “It was just miraculous,” Teresa said. “She starting eating, started talking, started learning. We were told she would probably never be able to read, and then she's reading Dr. Seuss books by herself, and some chapter books.”
Although the seizures lessened in number, Rachel still has them, but now she has her pal Taxi, who is as much a part of Rachel’s middle school career as any other student or teacher. “They're so cute together,” Teresa said. “They're such a great team.”
Writes Today.com on how the pair met: “Rachel and Taxi have been inseparable for the last four years, ever since they were connected by Cindy Buechner, who trains seizure alert dogs. When Taxi first came into Buechner's life, she immediately thought of Rachel's mom Teresa who she'd met at a jewelry party, and knew the dog would be immensely helpful for the family.”
“They found us,” Teresa told TODAY.com. “We hadn't been looking into service dogs...we thought she might need one when she was older, but it was just a God thing that he found us.”
Incredibly, Taxi can “predict” when Rachel is going to have a seizure, and not simply a few minutes ahead of time. At times, by picking up on a certain “smell” emitted by the body, Taxi knows that Rachel is about to seize close to an hour or more before it onsets. Taxi is then trained to alert Rachel’s family or teachers.
Once, when Rachel was swimming in the family's pool, Taxi suddenly bolted up and began slapping at the water. Rachel's parents took her out of the water, and 10 minutes later she had a seizure. On another day, when Rachel was going to play on the trampoline in the backyard, Taxi put his paws on her shoulders to stop her because he felt a seizure coming. Sure enough, one occurred a few minutes later. And as always, he was right by her side.
Because he is such a close companion of Rachel, her family joked that Taxi deserved a yearbook photo. They got it, and now are overjoyed at the attention that this dutiful and beloved service dog is receiving.
“When I posted that picture, never in a million years would I have imagined that it would rise to this magnitude,” Teresa said. “It’s been fun, and it’s been even more fun watching [Rachel] get excited about it.”