Josef Stevens and Marvel have only known each other for about a month, but their bond is already unbreakable.
The 1½-year-old bernedoodle — a Bernese mountain dog/poodle mix — has spent his entire life training to care for Josef, and Josef has devoted weeks of training to Marvel since the pair first met in June.
A sophomore at Concordia University in Seward, Josef — who graduated from Lutheran High Northeast in Norfolk — was diagnosed with epilepsy five years ago. His condition causes grand mal seizures, which involves a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions when he sees flashing lights or experiences a change in lighting.
If no one is around to help Josef when a grand mal seizure hits, Marvel’s job is to nudge Josef around to ensure that his airways are open. When Josef is away at school, he will have a bell mounted in his dorm room that Marvel will ring continuously until help arrives.
Josef’s mother, Heidi Stevens, said she and her son trained with Marvel at Domesti-PUPS in Lincoln for two weeks before the dog was brought home June 24.
Marvel’s training began long before that though.
“Whenever Josef had a seizure, we swabbed his mouth and froze the swabs. We’d send those in for Marvel to scent train. And Marvel grew up watching videos of Josef’s face, so he’d know what to look for,” Heidi Stevens said.
As part of his ongoing training, Marvel is only allowed to receive food, water and treats from Josef.
And although it’s hard on the rest of the family, no one is allowed to pet or play with Marvel on a regular basis. He’s considered to be at work whenever he’s with Josef, so any pets from others are rare and are only allowed with permission.
Josef said Marvel has been a good companion to him and has even helped with his stress levels.
“I haven’t had any seizures since I had him,” Josef said.
He was able to purchase the $28,000 dog through a series of community fundraising events and grants.
Heidi Stevens said Norfolk and the surrounding communities came through in force for her son.
“We were just so blessed. We wanted a final way to say ‘thank you’ to Norfolk, the surrounding communities. To the veterans and the local grocery store and Lutheran High (Northeast). And the farmers and the neighbors and everyone who made this possible,” she said.
“Our cup runneth over.”