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When Life is Easier with a Dog…

Service Dog

How’s that?? Life is easier with a dog?! I’m certain you have heard just the opposite…I know I have. I’ve been warned, “If you get a dog its going to make life complicated; you’ll always be looking for someone to take care of the little critter when you travel; a dog is perpetual 2-year-old.” But, that’s not always the case. Life can be easier with a dog… when that dog is well trained.

After the death of our labs, Kippy and Winnie, I didn’t think we would ever have the opportunity to get another dog. I too, believed that having a dog would be complicated… However, when opportunity did present itself, I just had to seize it.

Our social media director, Amanda was looking to place one of her Australian Shepard ‘puppies’ into a forever home. Amanda had heard me talk of wanting a service dog and felt ‘Barker’ could qualify. “He’s sweet, smart,15 months old and his current family is not able to keep him. He’s at a perfect age for training…what do you think? Should I send a picture?”

In fact, I had told many friends that I planned to someday get a service dog. These well trained dogs could do a variety of tasks for a disabled person, enabling them to be more independent. Bonnie Sawatzky, UBC researcher, first introduced me to her service dog, “Leon” when SideStix collaborated with her team of researchers in 2009. I have also had the pleasure of meeting many SideStix users at tradeshows and conferences who have introduced me to their working dogs. In these encounters I have witnessed that life could actually become easier. By having a well trained dog, they could assist in tasks that were difficult for the individual to do independently. I asked Amanda to send a picture of the pup and I’d try to convince Kerith that this could be the service dog I’ve been waiting for.

Kerith agreed to meet the dog on one condition: Barker would have to be evaluated by a reputable trainer to determine if he had the potential to become a service dog. It happens that an excellent trainer, Dale Stavroff of Precision Dogs lives in our neighborhood.

A week later, Barker came for his assessment and passed the test… and the next thing you know, we have a dog! We changed his name to Barlow (the name “Barker” just didn’t “sound” right for us) and now he is deep into his service dog training – with “Uncle Dale”…

It’s not easy for a family to give up their dog. Reasons are usually lack of training, life style or moving; in short, incompatibility, according to Cesar Millan. But, Barlow’s previous family is not alone in not being able to live with their sweet puppy they adopted a year ago:

In 2015, the ASPCA estimated:

  • 6 million companion animals enter animal shelters each year. Of those, 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats
  • About twice as many animals enter shelters as strays compared to the number that are relinquished by their owners
  • Of the dogs entering shelters, approximately 35% are adopted, 31% are euthanized and 26% of dogs who came in as strays are returned back to their owner.

The good news is since 2013, the numbers are going down. Organizations like ‘Freedom Service Dogs of America’, take dogs that have the potential to be service dogs, from shelters and custom train these dogs for the disabled individuals in need. ‘Best Friends’, in Kanab, UT, provides the largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals in N. America and runs educational programs to reduce the numbers of animals entering shelters.

Barlow (and we) are lucky. His first family returned him to the breeder, who found him a home that was more compatible. Dale Stavroff, our trainer, is using positive reinforcement (click/treat) and bench work, to shape Barlow’s natural behaviors (to work and retrieve) into helpful tasks specific to my needs. Barlow is now happy and better behaved and we are happier too.

Pit Bull Service Dog

Our AOM, Nerissa Cannon, trained her own dog, “Cash” to assist her in tasks. Wow, I now know what that takes, having watched our trainer work. You can read more about Nerissa and Cash in our recent post How I Became Superhuman.

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