Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Victoria "Vicky" Doroshenko
Case: Medical Miracle
Location: Tacoma, Washington
Date: 1987


Details: Victoria Doroshenko believes that her dog, Harley, was able to predict her seizures before they occurred, allowing her to get to a safe place and giving her a chance at a normal life. This unique and heartwarming mystery deals with the bond between people and animals and the amazing "sixth sense" some animals possess when it comes to helping and protecting their owners.
At 1:45am on December 4, 1984, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a drunk driver ran a red light and collided with a car driven by Victoria, then nineteen. She was left unconscious and suffering from multiple head injuries. She says that before the accident, she had a perfect life. But after it, she lost everything. She could not go back to school. She lost her job. She was in and out of the hospital so many times that there was no way that she could function with a normal life. She felt lost. She felt like somebody had taken her life.
Victoria was plagued by headaches and periodic blackouts. A year and a half later, she moved to Tacoma, Washington, hoping to put the accident and her injuries behind her. Then, in August 1986, while she was already hospitalized, she suffered a violent seizure. The symptoms were clear: she had epilepsy. In her car accident, brain cells had been damaged, disrupting normal activity and causing seizures. For her, the prognosis was grim.
When Victoria's seizures were at their worst, she was having up to twenty-four "big" ones per day. In between the big ones, she had about ten "little" ones. The doctors did not think she would live much longer. The severity of her seizures left her completely incapacitated. She fell often, reinjuring her head, which only induced more seizures. She was confined to a wheelchair and required round-the-clock care. Because her lungs filled with fluid during and after the seizures, death was a constant threat. Her situation seemed hopeless.
Victoria says she could not do anything. She could not leave the house by herself. When she did leave the house, she had to have enough people around her that could pick her up or carry her if need be. If she was having a seizure, she had to be strapped to something because the seizures were so violent that she would throw herself around and injure herself. She was not awake most of the time. When she was awake, she was very depressed. At some points, she did not even want to live.
Victoria would find help in an unlikely place: the Purdy Correctional Center for Women, a prison twenty-five miles outside Tacoma. In 1982, the state of Washington set up the Prison Pet Partnership Program. Under the guidance of a professional, inmates trained dogs rescued from the pound to be companions and aides for the handicapped. The dogs learned to open and close doors, pick up a telephone receiver, pull wheelchairs, and fetch things like clothing and hairbrushes.
In 1987, Victoria heard about the program and went to the prison. It was a decision that would save her life. She says she hoped to find a dog to help her with her daily living skills. She was also very lonely. She did not have a social life, so she thought a dog could help with that. When she arrived for her interview, inmate trainers were working in the room with two dogs, both golden retrievers. One of the dogs had been chosen for Victoria.
While there, Victoria had a major seizure. The dog that had been chosen for her walked away and did not seem to care. The second dog in the room, Harley, defied his trainer's commands and did respond to Victoria. He immediately walked over and laid down with her. Inmate trainer Sue Miller says that everyone in the room was astounded when Harley did this. He was doing what they hoped he would learn to do before they even had the chance to teach him. He somehow knew what to do.
When Victoria woke up from her seizure, Harley's head was lying on her. She says he looked at her like he was sad and knew something was wrong. As soon as she started petting him, he apparently realized that everything was okay and started wagging his tail. She says that from that point on, she knew that he was her dog and her "partner" and that it was going to work out.
No one could explain why Harley responded to Victoria during her seizure. The prison program had discovered another dog that showed a special sensitivity to epileptics, again with no explanation. Why do certain animals appear to establish this immediate sympathetic bond? For the medical community, this question is an intriguing one. For Victoria, it was a question of life and death.
Once Harley was with Victoria full-time, her anxiety diminished, and the frequency of her seizures decreased dramatically. Her doctors allowed her to resume classes at Tacoma Community College. Harley was her constant companion. One day, while they were walking across campus, he all of a sudden started acting "really funny." He did not want to cooperate or listen to her. He started pacing, barking, nudging her, and jumping onto her walker.
Victoria says Harley was a very laid-back dog and was normally not rambunctious. So when he started acting that way, she did not know what was happening with him. Shortly afterward, she found an empty classroom with a teacher in it and asked if she could sit down. She told the teacher she was not feeling well. Harley calmed down once Victoria was safely inside the classroom. Five minutes later, she had a major seizure.
Amazingly, it appeared to Victoria and others present that Harley had somehow known she was going to have a seizure. His barking and strange behavior had been a signal for her to go to a safe place. When she realized that he could predict her seizures ahead of time, she was thrilled. She knew that she was saved, and her life was completely changed.
After his first prediction, Harley never failed to warn Victoria when a seizure was coming on. He always exhibited the same aberrant behavior, giving her fifteen to forty-five minutes' notice before a seizure was about to strike. She says that after that, the bond, trust, love, and dependency grew until there was no comparison. She says they became like one – like he was her shadow.
Harley changed Victoria's life dramatically. She was able to eat, shower, and go for walks on her own. She now felt comfortable enough to leave her house whenever she wanted. She began to interact with other people again. If she had a seizure, Harley always stayed by her side. He sensed danger and kept her away from traffic if a seizure was coming on. For the first time since her accident, she enjoyed the comfort and security of a normal life.
Reina Berner of "The Epilepsy Institute" says that neither modern technology nor doctors can predict when a seizure will occur or how many seizures a person will have. But, incredibly, dogs like Harley can. They can tell beforehand when a seizure will occur. They can warn the person so that the person can feel safe. The person can have the comfort of having a dog with them at all times. Berner says the anxiety of having a seizure is with that person all the time, so having a dog like Harley would help with that.
Victoria says she can never repay Harley or show how devoted she is to him for what he has done for her. In the spring of 1990, while she was hospitalized at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, he stayed by her side. He also apparently detected several of her roommates' seizures while there.
In June 1990, shortly after returning home, Harley became lethargic and disoriented. After he failed to alert Victoria to two grand mal seizures, she took him to a veterinarian, who said that his symptoms indicated he had a brain tumor or brain disorder. The vet also suggested that it may have been related to the stress he endured while responding to her and her roommates' seizures.
Victoria raised money to take Harley to veterinary specialists at Washington State University, hoping that they could identify his illness. However, they were also unable to determine what was wrong with him. His condition continued to worsen until August 1, when he died at the age of seven.
Victoria has no words to describe how she felt about Harley. She says, "He gave me a life, and that is more than you could ever give anybody." She is now the head of an organization that works to get dogs like Harley into public places (such as planes) with their owners.
The Epilepsy Institute has received reports of fifteen other dogs that seem to be able to predict epileptic seizures. Six of them came from the Purdy Correctional Center for Women. No one can explain why certain dogs seem to have an innate sensitivity to epileptics. For the victims of epilepsy whose quality of life is so greatly improved by these dogs, no explanation is necessary. They are happy to accept this particular unsolved mystery at face value.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the November 14, 1990 episode.
  • Other cases of dogs detecting diseases include: Mia, Shadow, and George.
  • Some sources state Harley was a Labrador cross and that he learned the skill of detecting seizures from inmates at the prison.

Results: Unresolved - In 2019, Amélie Catala, a doctoral student at the University of Rennes, conducted an experiment to see if dogs could detect a person having a seizure by smelling them. Sweat samples were taken from several people, with only certain ones having had seizures. The dogs, which had been trained in seizure detection, were able to correctly identify which person had a seizure.
In 2021, a team of researchers headed by Neil Powell of Queen's University conducted a similar experiment to try and determine why certain dogs like Harley can detect seizures before they actually occur. They theorized that certain organic compounds are released in the form of sweat prior to a person's seizure, which a dog's sensitive nose can pick up on.
The team collected scent samples from people with epilepsy. Several dogs were brought in to smell the samples. These dogs had not been previously trained in seizure detection. When the dogs smelled samples that were taken right before a person had a seizure, they began to react in a way similar to how Harley would react before Victoria had one. These results suggest that certain dogs can detect a seizure early based on changes in a person's scent. However, more testing will likely need to be done in order to confirm this theory.
Victoria later returned to Minneapolis and obtained a bachelor's degree in public administration from Crown College. She also worked as a volunteer for various nonprofit organizations. For years, she was in and out of the hospital and continued to suffer from seizures, though not as often as she did when she met Harley. Sadly, on February 26, 2022, she passed away at the age of fifty-six. She was survived by her daughter Haley, two grandchildren, and several siblings.