River lives the life of a typical college student. She attends class every day, goes to the dining hall and hangs out in the Nebraska Union. There’s only one big difference: River is furry, and she has four legs.
River is Lillie Mixan’s seizure alert dog. Mixan, a junior nursing student, has epilepsy, which she said causes her to have seizures every day.
“My freshman year of college because my seizures just kept getting worse,” Mixan said. “I had no other options for treatment, so I decided I need a service dog.”
Mixan began getting seizures her sophomore year of high school. Her family tried to train the family dog to be her service dog but had failed. Through this process, Mixan gained enough knowledge to feel confident in training a puppy herself, which she did for River. Mixan and River developed a bond that is apparent to people in their lives.
“You can tell Lillie cares a great deal about River, and River helps her out a lot. It's a great relationship,” said David Ideus, a friend of Mixan.
River knows when Mixan is having a seizure, and she will find someone who is then able to call 911. Stress and sleep deprivation increase the risk of a seizure for Mixan, she said, so River has been trained to sense when Mixan is feeling those. The ultimate goal in River’s training is for her to be able to predict when Mixan is going to have a seizure, Mixan said.
Mixan said she was registered with the disability office before adopting River, and she was able to get in contact with them right away for accommodations. The university complies with Nebraska Revised Statute 20‐127, which states, “A bona fide trainer of a service animal has the right to be accompanied by such animal in training in any of the places listed in subsection (2) of this section.”
“Even as a puppy, I'm legally allowed to take her everywhere because she's a service dog in training,” Mixan said.
Mixan would bring River with her to the dining hall, even as a puppy in training. River would wear a vest in order to be easily identified as a service dog. One time, Mixan said she was told she could not bring River into the dining hall because the worker refused to believe that River was a service dog.
“[The worker] was like, ‘She's a puppy. She can't be a service dog,’” Mixan said. “I was like,’Well, she is. She's in training, and I know my legal rights. She's allowed to be here.’”
They continued to argue until one of Mixan’s friends intervened. After the incident, she said she contacted the head of dining services, who issued an apology and promised to educate the staff properly, Mixan said.
“That was probably really the only negative incident that I've had with [River] on campus,” Mixan said.
Mixan adopted River shortly before the university transitioned to online learning. During the first couple of weeks, she had to leave River at home while she went to class because she was not properly trained yet. Mixan said she hated leaving River alone even though she knew it would be okay.
Now, Mixan loves to take River to new places and give her new experiences. She said she has not dealt with people on campus trying to pet River. She actually enjoys walking with River on campus. She said her favorite thing is when she hears people whispering to each other, “Oh my gosh that dog is so cute.”
“She’s my best friend. She’s a big blessing and such a huge help to me,” Mixan said.