Westminster Competitor Alert to Handler's Commands and Health

Vala will be alert to his handler's commands and his health.

ByABC News
February 9, 2010, 3:57 PM

Feb. 12, 2010 — -- Vala has a collar full of ribbons, just like the hundreds of other dogs that will be competing next week at the prestigious Westiminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

But unlike the pampered pooches who will be busy getting their fur styled and their nails clipped before the competition kicks off Monday, Vala will be focused on only one thing: her handler.

The young man on the other end of Vala's leash is 14-year-old Ethan Miller, who trusts his life to the instincts of his award-winning dog.

Ethan, who has cerebral palsy, is one of just a couple of disabled handlers who will lead their dogs around the ring this Monday and Tuesday at New York City's Madison Square Garden. It's expected to be a sold out show.

His mother, Chris, told ABCNews.com that the 4-year-old Canaan has alerted her to her son's seizures on "more than one occasion.

"One time, about a minute and a half before the first onset of the seizure, Vala started walking back and forth between me and Ethan and was clearly trying to indicate that I needed to come help," she said. "I knew what Vala was trying to tell me."

Miller said that while medication has largely controlled Ethan's symptoms in the past few years, Vala's early detection allows her son to get in a safe place or position before the seizures occur.

"It helps to prevent him from hurting himself with a fall," said Miller, who said that even though seizures tend to last only 20 to 50 seconds, they seem like an "eternity when you're a mom."

"It's very comforting for me, as a mother," said Chris Miller, who is coming to New York from the family's home and kennel in Conyers, Ga. "It also helps Ethan a lot. He is able to relax and lie down when he knows [the seizures] are coming."

Ethan told ABCNews.com that the bond that he has formed with Vala is more than just a boy and his dog.

"I would consider her more than my best friend," said Ethan. "She's just so nice. Her personality is great, and she's never mean. She loves me."

Ethan said, "I do believe Vala knows me very well."

The Canaan breed is known for being very attuned and empathetic to their owners. According to Chris Miller, the breed's natural instincts are often stronger than those of more domesticated breeds.

Vala is not only a lifesaver, she has style. Vala is currently the No. 2 dog of her breed, and if she wins the Canaan group best in breed award Monday, she will go on to compete in the Herding group later that evening.