IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Five-year-old Cade Lemmon doesn't yet understand the urgency behind the bond developing between him and a slobbering 125-pound Newfoundland named Baxter.
From the day the dog was born 11 months ago in Draper, Utah, Cade's parents insisted Baxter fall asleep each night swaddled in the boy's pajamas. Jeff and Melinda Lemmon of Idaho Falls hoped to artificially accelerate the bond between the puppy and the boy who was waiting for a best friend.
They then enrolled Baxter in a $6,000 training program with the financial support of several local businesses and organizations. They went to all this effort and expense to make sure the dog would be as well-behaved and attentive to Cade as possible.
The attention given to the relationship between Cade and Baxter may seem extreme until the stakes are considered.
Baxter's job is to someday save Cade's life.
Cade Jeffords Lemmon wasn't breathing when he was born more than 90 days premature in a Salt Lake City hospital Oct. 30, 2004.
He weighed just more than 2 pounds, the largest of a set of quadruplets, all of whom have survived.
Cade underwent brain surgery days after he was born because of a condition known as hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.
Cade's brain is wired with a series of shunts and tubes that divert fluid from his brain down into his tummy.
As often as twice a day, Cade has nonviolent seizures. Often, they pass relatively harmlessly and Cade only appears groggy, like he is staring off into space.
But the seizures can signal a malfunction of the shunts attached to Cade's ventricles. If that happens, it would require another emergency brain surgery, 10 of which Cade endured last year.
Cade's mother warns that his next surgery could be his last, that the boy's body may eventually be unable to withstand the operations. Even under the best circumstances, the Lemmons said, the odds of Cade living to become an adult are long.
But the Lemmons take comfort in small victories, like a potential milestone at the end of this month. If Cade makes it through April without a hospital visit, it will be the longest he has gone without a scare in nearly two years.
The danger with Cade's seizures is that other people don't often notice them because they are rarely marked by convulsions.
That's where Baxter comes in.
When Cade has a seizure, Baxter barks repeatedly or refuses to leave the boy's side when called, meaning the Lemmons have to pay as much attention to the dog as they do their children.
Baxter, the Lemmons said, is able to sense a seizure up to two hours before its onset because Cade's body emits the faintest of citrus scents, which are undetectable to humans.
"It's important because Cade doesn't do little (emergencies)," his mother said. "If he's going to the hospital, it's on LifeFlight, and we have an hour to make it."
Baxter has already noticed something that doctors hadn't. In January, the dog alerted the Lemmons to seizures suffered by Cade's sister, Blayke, a condition that was previously undiagnosed.
"I'm still trying to figure out how a dog could sense that much or know when a seizure is happening," Jeff Lemmon said. "It amazes me."
The remaining quadruplets require attention as well. Jayce has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the family hopes therapy will minimize the long-term effects of her condition. The final quadruplet, Britt, also receives therapy to help her overcome struggles with her motor skills.
If you ever meet Cade, you will probably meet Baxter, too.
When the Lemmons go out to eat, Baxter scrunches under the table at Cade's feet.
When they go shopping, Baxter is there, wearing a green harness that says, "Don't pet me, I am working."
Next fall, Baxter will go to kindergarten with Cade.
Baxter's presence, Jeff Lemmon said, eases their concerns about Cade trying to lead as normal a childhood as possible in the world outside their home.
"It's more like a reassurance to us," he said.
Although Cade and Baxter are both so young, the bond is undeniable.14 comments on this story
Cade rarely passes Baxter in a room without wrapping the dog in a bear hug, scratching his back or rubbing his belly and laughing.
When Baxter stretches out in the living room to sleep, Cade rests his head on the dog's body.
And when somebody asks, Cade says, "That's my Bax," just in case there is any confusion over whose dog Baxter really is.
"Baxter is my dog," Cade said quietly, his brown eyes opened wide. "He is my best friend."