Special Skills Dogs

Service dogs for mobility assistance

Service dogs for mobility assistance assist people who use wheelchairs by opening doors or drawers, pushing up ramps and over curbs, picking up dropped objects, and carrying parcels. For example, Pristine's Gentle Jesse, who belongs to Marilyn Evans, received his credentials from Paws-Ability in August, 1996 at 18 months of age. "He assists his human companion....can pick up objects as small as a dime, bring her a telephone and help her up stairs....the nature of Marilyn's needs change continually [so] Jesse is continually learning new ways to help!" To see Jesse on Pristine's web page, go to Pristine's Gentle Jesse, 21 July 1997. To learn more about Paws-Ability, write to: Paws-Ability, 1007 Industry Dr., Tukwilla, WA 98188 USA, or call 1-800-730-3794.

Debbie Willow lives in London, Ontario with her Special Skills dog, Tudorose Lego Hear Special. Ms Willow, who has CP, runs an importing business which specializes in athletic equipment modified for disabled people. Lego allows her freedom and independence she did not have before. He pulls her wheelchair, picks up things, turns on lights, opens doors, gets help if she falls, takes the bankbook and gives it to the teller, wears a backpack and carries things. Lego and Ms Willow travel often to meetings; they've been to Germany, Belgium, Holland, and France; in the United States, New York and Atlanta; in Canada, Winnipeg and Vancouver (Lego lies beside her in the airplane; his greatest challenge in Belgium was to learn to pee on cobblestones). See: Lynne Swanson, "Focus on Ability", Home Business Report, winter, 1997, pp. 7-12; and Lynne Swanson, "A Dynamic Duo", London Magazine, March, 1997, p. 13.

Sandy Oseas, who has limited mobility and spends part of her time in a wheelchair, works with her Standard Poodles, Landmark and Shadow, both trained at Canine Companions for Independence, Santa Rosa, CA (national headquarters; phone 707-577-1700). See: "A Poodle Companion Dog" by Joan Heymann, Versatility in Poodles Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 5, October 1998, pp. 2-3. Ms. Oseas received Landmark in August 1986; he helps her in and out of a chair, opens doors, helps with laundry, acts as balance on steps, pulls the wheelchair, has helped her up after a fall. When he began to age, Ms. Oseas obtained Shadow as a puppy, and raised him (including obedience training) to succeed Landmark; CCI agreed to give him specialized training, although the organization has ceased to breed and train Poodles. Shadow loves to pull the wheelchair, and also to push the buttons which open doors for a wheelchair; as of October 1998 he is 23 months old: is still learning to help Ms. Oseas on stairs "partly because the training centers are very handicapped accessible and have no stairs.... Another thing she wants to teach Shadow is to bark on command--usually a fairly easy thing, but she has been so busy teaching him not to bark anywhere (he wants to bark at other dogs) that she is a little nervous about telling him it is OK to bark. Barking on command would help people to find her if she got into trouble."

Tonka, a black Standard Poodle, has worked for several years with Harley Nott, who uses a wheelchair in Toronto; Tonka has made himself indispensable. (Ch. 9, CFTO Toronto, early and late edition, Tuesday, 29 December 1998).

Service dogs for seizure assistance

Service dogs for seizure assistance can push a button to alert (for example "dial" 911), bark to get help, prevent their handler from going on a road, notify when a seizure begins, and pick up dropped objects. Dogs cannot be specifically trained to alert the handler to a coming seizure; however dogs who are sensitive to people, and who have developed a strong bond with their handler, may learn to pre-detect seizures. See: Abilities, summer 1996, p. 30: "Someone to watch over me. The story of Seiko", by Susanne Pettit-Crossman, an article about Sue Hoffman's Key Companion, Tudorose Seiko (first service dog to be allowed into the Louvre in Paris--he and Susan were in Europe to make a presentation to 25 doctors at an international conference at the Cruquiushoeve, a world-renowned epilepsy center in Holland). Sue's own neurologist helped to set up the presentation; ironically, he was not a "believer" in Seiko at the outset; now he is a full-fledged advocate.

For more information about Sue, Seiko, and their work together, see: "A Gift of Independence", by Gary Wilkes (Dog Fancy, April 1996; winner of a Dog Writers of America, Inc. award), and "'There'll Never Be Another Seiko'", by Margo Pfeiff (Reader's Digest, March 2001, pp. 50-7). For more information about Key Companions, call (519) 652-2579.

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