It’s been almost two years since Blake Pass and his family shared their story and desire for a service dog for Blake, who has been diagnosed with both epilepsy and autism.

This week, their dream became reality as Tony, a 2-year-old golden doodle from Service Dogs of Warren Retrievers, was delivered to their Maryville home. Blake is 6 years old and will enter first grade at John Sevier Elementary this year.

Blake’s dad, Jeffrey Pass, said it’s been a long time coming. The family has raised the $30,000 needed to purchase Tony.

The dog will be tethered to Blake, who has been known to run without warning. Jeffrey Pass said one day — as they were unloading groceries from the car — Blake took off for the road, a busy South Everett High. Jeffrey and Blake’s mom Megan dropped everything and chased him down.

Thankfully he wasn’t hit by a car. Tony can now prevent a similar incident from happening, Jeffrey said. After the dog becomes familiar with Blake, Tony won’t have to be tethered to him. If Blake decides to bolt, Tony will tackle him, Jeffrey said.

“It will probably scare Blake to death but that’s what has to happen to keep him safe,” Jeffrey Pass said.

On June 13, there was a huge celebration at RIO Revolution for Blake to introduce his dog. The Pass family invited their pastor, Pacer Hepperly, along with the Maryville Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Office and local fire departments. Blake was able to climb aboard a (Special Weapons and Tactics) SWAT vehicle from BCSO. A local ambulance service was represented as well.

Making an entrance

The vehicles all arrived with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It was a day, Jeffrey said, that his son won’t soon forget. “Something inside of him has lit up,” Jeffrey Pass said. “It’s amazing.”

Hepperly visited with the family and others who attended the celebration. The pastor said he’s seen the Pass family’s struggles. Blake’s had hospital stays and been near death, Hepperly said. “He’s resilient to pull through all of that. Today is a great day.”

Blake’s parents expressed their gratitude to all who have been part of the journey. He singled out all of the emergency responders who put their lives on the line. He said he and Megan have met so many people who feel as if they know Blake.

“He has touched so many people with his story,” Jeffrey Pass said of Blake. He said EMTs are familiar with his situation because of the many calls to 911 over the years. At one point, Blake was having more than 100 seizures a day. When he experienced the most severe ones, he would have to be taken to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Blake, Jeffrey Pass said, sees the emergency responders as superheroes. “Because of them, he is still here.”

The Pass family was notified several weeks ago that a dog has been chosen for Blake. Tony arrived on June 10. Erin Gray, with Service Dogs of Warren Retrievers, delivered him and worked with the family. Jeffrey said when Blake heard the news, he was ecstatic.

“We can’t believe the dog is finally here,” Jeffrey Pass said. ‘We’ve been waiting for a long time. For Blake, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

Gray spent four days with the Pass family and was leaving after the celebration. She said Tony and Blake have bonded and will continue to do so.

After some training, Tony will be going to school with Blake. Right now, he’s going just about everywhere else. In addition to being on duty for when Blake runs, he will also be able to signal to family members when Blake is having an epileptic seizure. Over time, the dog might even be able to detect them before they happen, the family said.

Tony will be wearing a service dog vest when he’s out with Blake. People are asked not to pet him because he is a working dog. He is a life-saving device, Blake’s dad said.

The story has gained a lot of attention since the Pass family shared Blake’s struggles. Knoxville television stations have followed the progress as well.

Jeffrey Pass said the celebration on Thursday is a way for the Pass family to thank all who have played a part in Blake’s life. It will be a great summer as the Pass family welcomes a new family member, Jeffrey said. “He will make a real difference in our lives.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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