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a dog called homeless


i’m here at canine assistants, which isan amazing organization that trains dogs to assist people with medical conditions anddisabilities. the reason why i love this organization is that it helps these people have a new leaseon life, but also, it trains dogs using positive reenforcement methods only. and i think whenyou see it, the results speak for themselves. so join me today, as we take you into a dayin the life of this amazing organization to see how dogs literally change people’s lives.i’m victoria stilwell, join me as i travel the u.s. and discover stories of dogs andhumans impacting each others lives for the better. this is american dog. you run themost, i think the most, incredible organization. what inspired you to set it up? well, it’smy privilege, certainly, to be able to do

this all the time. and it came from a personalexperience. when i was 16, i woke up one morning and got out of bed to go to the bathroom,and i fell on the floor. several days later, i was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis.and because i was so young then, and it was a long time ago, they really -- the prognosiswas really pretty grim. so we’d always loved animals, and my father had just seen an articlein a magazine about a woman in california who was working with dogs to help people usewheelchairs. bonnie bergin is her name. he contacted her, and she said: you know, wehave three dogs in training. georgia is a long way away. we really are not gonna beable to provide a dog for your daughter. and he sat -- i didn’t know that he was contactingher -- and he came and sat on the edge of

my bed one night and said: you know, i talkedto this woman, and unfortunately, she can’t provide a dog, but i have an idea. maybe thisis what you’re meant to do? let’s do this. how long has canine assistants been in effect?this is our twenty-first year now. twenty-first year. yeah. that’s amazing to have that.so obviously, it’s very successful. this organization was founded on one thing: andthat’s jennifer’s passion. she’s super passionate about what she does. she’s superpassionate about the people that she helps. and it’s been the generosity of others thathave kept it going. and, you know, since we don’t charge anything for any of the services.you charge nothing? we don’t charge anything. so when people come and get a dog... that’sright. they -- it’s for free? it’s for

free. we fly them here -- they come from allover the country. we fly them here. we put them up at a hotel down the street for twoweeks, and we provide their meals, and their transportation over here. they spend two weeksworking here, either at canine assistants, or out in the community doing things likeriding public transportation, so that when they get home, they’ll have a feel for whatit is, what it’s like to be moving around with a dog. but they don’t pay anything.and so, it’s only because of the generosity of others that we’re able to do what wedo. some of the recipients here today: tell me a little bit about them. certainly, ciara,with the seizure dog -- her condition is very, very serious, isn’t it? seizure alert dogsare relatively new, are they? at this moment,

no one can say for certain to what stimulithe dog is responding when they anticipate that a seizure is coming. we say seizure responsedogs. we are very close, i think, to figuring out what this is. and, as a matter of fact,we’re undertaking a research project with a university to determine, you know, to whatthe dog is responding. and i think it’s gonna be scent-based detection. because i’veseen dogs that have never, i mean, they were born in my hands, they’ve never seen anybodyhave a seizure. and they know. and when they know, it upsets them. alright, so, tell usyour name. my name is ciara. and what is your dog’s name? yukon. yukon -- and what doesyukon do for you? he’s a working dog, and he helps me with all my seizures. when yukonsenses that, he’s gonna be able to go and

tell your mom, is that right? well, he usuallyruns and barks at my mom, and i have a big, ginormous seizure. so really, he’s pickingup on the scent just before she’s about to have a seizure? so far that’s what he’sdone. i mean, she’s only been with him for ten days. yes. and the two that he’s alertedto, it’s been before the seizure. how long before the seizure? 15 minutes before theseizure. 15 minutes -- so that really gives ample time, doesn’t it? how is this goingto change your life? tremendously. she is a very spirited girl, as you can see, andright now has little to no independence, because we can’t leave her. she’s been -- she’swaited a long time for yukon -- it’s been 5 1/2 years. and last summer, i found herunconscious on the bathroom floor after she

had a seizure and fallen. and i didn’t knowit. i thought the noise i had heard was her closing the door, and it was actually herhead hitting the floor. so she now never goes to the bathroom unless somebody’s with her.so just something as simple as that, to even just being left alone to play with her brother,who is four -- and he now runs to get me if i’m cooking dinner and they’re in theliving room. so it -- it gives me a peace of mind for her safety, but it gives her asense of independency that she didn’t have before. what happens at night time? ciaraused to have 150 seizures a day. a 150 seizures a day? a 150 a day. she was in a helmut andcouldn’t talk or walk. and then we put her on a special diet called the ketogenic diet,and it stopped the daily seizures, but she

still would have 45 minutes seizures oncea month, every month. we changed medication -- now she has, instead of one long seizurea month, she has two to five short ones a week. so for the last five years, i’ve sleptwith ciara to try -- in an effort to keep her safe at night, in case she has a seizure.but now, yukon is gonna start doing that. so it might take a couple weeks for the transition.but eventually, he’ll be in there, and i’ll be in my room, so that if she has a seizure,he’ll come get me. talking about scent: allison, with diabetes -- is that scent related?we know that dogs have an easy time, relativity speaking, detecting high and low blood sugarsand the change in, you know, in oder in your mouth, in your saliva, sweat. so when stuartknows that allison’s blood sugar is high

or low, it’s definitely scent based. canyou tell me how you trained stuart to recognize a high-low blood sugar levels? we startedby exposing him just to the scent itself in multiple -- we actually use little scent canisters.and we let him, you know, come up and smell it. and as he smelled it, we would, you know,click or say “yes” and mark that that was the scent that we wanted him smell for.at first, every canister had the scent we wanted. and then one would have a blank. andthen two would have a blank. and finally, you know, we were able to move it around andput it in different people’s hands, and he could still find it. so now you’re older,you say you can’t feel when a low or a high is coming on? is coming on. so you reallyrely on stuart to be able to tell you? yes,

yes. how is this gonna change your life? ihave to check my blood sugar once an hour. once an hour? yeah. wow. and, i mean, withstuart, it would help -- i wouldn’t have to check as often, because he could tell mewhen i needed to check. so what will happen if you didn’t have a dog to alert you? ifi didn’t have a dog to alert me, and i didn’t feel the blood sugar coming on, which i don’tusually do, then i could, if i’m too low, i could go into a coma or a seizure. if i’mtoo high, same exact thing -- coma or a seizure. so, you’re 13-years-old, you wanna go tothe mall by yourself. you do not want your mother to come along with you. yes. you gonnatake your dog instead? exactly. does your experience make you very empathetic towardsother people’s experience? i do think that

i am able to understand, sort of from theirposition, what it’s like. that it’s just not that you can’t pick up your pen. it’sthat everything in your life is 100 times more difficult. i mean, like sam, what thatyoung man did for this country is something that i don’t know that any of us could everrepay. i mean, he was physically wounded, and he was emotionally, nearly destroyed.where were you stationed? i was stationed in fort bragg, and i had a deployment overiraq. in iraq -- how long were you in iraq for? one tour. now, what gave you the ideaof getting a service dog? i’ve always had animals back home. and i did go through ptsdimpatient for 8 months in west virginia. and my therapy told me: sam, i think you needa dog in your life. and she told me about

the program. and since then, this was likea light bulb -- all i could think about is waiting on her to come in my life. how longdid you have to wait? i’ve waited 3 1/2 years now. 3 1/2 years. yeah. what was lifelike before, after you came back from iraq? before actually getting deployed, i thinkeverything was normal. i’m the type that i’m out all the time. i just love life.i like to work a lot. after i coming back, i just start having a lot trouble sleeping,nightmares. i could’t put my hand on the knob of my own apartment and just get out,because i just were so anxious and just can’t. i honestly hated people. never had a successfulrelationship. i wanted to go back to school, and could’t do it. too many people. toomany students get on my nerves. didn’t understand

why, so my only comfort zone was just to stayhome and deal with it. and i would say that -- in the sake of the people that helped mehere-- i really don’t like talking about it, but i appreciate how much they’ve helpedme. i did overdose a few times. my doctor one day asked me, after getting back, is thereany hope in your life that you’re looking for? i guess they’re trying to make surei’m having hope, and i’m not having any symptoms of suicide anymore. so the only thingi could think of was getting my dog. i didn’t know if she was a he or a she, so i said “justwaiting on my dog.” why do you think it is having a dog by your side -- what doesshe make you feel? my mind, pretty much, is focusing on her, and trying to see where she’sat, and how she looks at me. and connecting

with her than worrying about who’s behindmy back, and who’s that guy in the corner -- what he’s doing -- and all that. i just,my focus shifts a little bit, and it makes me a little bit -- a little bit calm in away. now you have her. yeah. so the future is going to be a lot brighter for you? yeah,i’m excited about going back home. go back to school. i did sign up for a few classesbefore, but i never made it, because i couldn't take it. so this time, i’m excited to makeit -- make it different. chris, you’re the head trainer here at canine assistants. howdo you go about starting this whole process? it takes about 18 months of training for thedogs to be ready to go with a recipient. so i get ahold of the puppies when they’reabout 7 weeks. we build a friendship and a

trust and a bond. and that’s how we movethrough training -- is they trust me, and i trust them. what is your sort of methodof creating that trust and creating that bond? you know, i have to have a relationship withthe dog. i don’t want it to be, you know, just a one-sided relationship where i askfor stuff and they do it for me. i have to sort of build their trust. and i start withsomething that’s very simple, which is this: it’s just a settle, a settle command. andi just put them in sort of a vulnerable state -- like they’re belly-up and they’re unsure.and we just sort of practice learning that being in a submissive position is safe, andit’s okay, and they’re not in danger. they’re protected, and they know that ihave there -- i have them safe. a relationship

with an animal is no different -- you haveto show that you’re a worthy leader, and that you can be trusted with that relationship.and this is the very start right here. so by the end of their training, they shouldknow around 90 commands. but we start simple, just like everyone. we start with: “sit”and “shake” and “down” and “roll” and “heel” and “lap” and “off”and “stay”. those are the most important. that’s sort of the fundamentals -- the buildingblocks of all training. i am physically capable of dominating this dog, right? i can say you’regonna sit, and you’ll sit. but a recipient who is a quadriplegic is never going to beable to say “you’ll sit, because i’ll tell ya to sit,” -- the dog will be like,“well, how are you gonna make me?” our

dogs have to enjoy working. so even when theyhave the choice of whether they should work or they shouldn't, they’ll do it becausethey enjoy work. these dogs work really hard, and they dedicate the first two years of theirlife to training, and then they’re gonna dedicate the rest of their life to their person.and so, at the very least, they deserve our respect and our love, and they certainly shouldn’tdeal with punishment. and that’s what we try and instill in these little guys is workis fun, and it’s good. right? our last audit, it was about $25,000 a dog to train and placeand care for. the recipients are extremely important to us. the dogs are too. you know,they’re our dogs. we’re responsible for them. that’s why if someone comes and getsa dog from us, and they can’t afford to

properly take care of that dog when they leavehere, we cover that cost for the life of the dog. because we can’t send our dogs outwith someone that is having a difficult time feeding themselves or taking themselves tothe doctor. we’re the only organization that i’m aware of that’ll do that. it’shard not to get attached to the recipients. i know that you get attached to every singleone of them. i do. i particularly became very fond of charlie. what is his condition? hehas a neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy. so it’s genetic, and hewas born with it. we didn’t start seeing signs until he was probably 4 or 5, 6-months-old.but yes, it’s genetic, and he was born with it, so... okay. he’s always been... he’shad a chair, and he’s always been like that.

yes, he got his first chair when he was likea little older than 18 months. okay. so he’s been driving in his chair since then. now,what is it like, mom and dad, for charlie on a daily basis? other than being on hiscomputer, he’s able to play on his computer, but other than that, if he’s not in hischair, he’s dependent on mom and dad for, or somebody, for everything. if he drops something,he can’t pick it up. if he wanted the lights turned on or anything brought back to him,he can’t do it himself. so, he’s pretty much dependent on us. so really, meadow isgoing to give him more independence. yes. because is it -- i saw meadow picking thingsup and bringing stuff to you, and that’s what she can do without your mom and dad beingthere. so will meadow bring you more independence?

yes. good. does that feel good? uh huh. yeah.because we don’t -- we love mom and dad, but we don’t want them around all the time.when charlie was younger, a lot of the challenges we faced were physical challenges for charliethat we could help him with. and as he’s getting older, charlie’s in 3rd grade, wefind a lot more the challenges are social, and finding ways for him to interact withhis classmates and socially. so we’re just thrilled with his comments about meadow, becausethat’s one of the big pieces we hope meadow brings to charley’s life. how hard has itbeen for charlie to kind of be accepted, as it were? you know, it’s just been happeningin the last, i’d say, couple months, were he has said he doesn’t want to go out inpublic, because people stare at him. and we

were at the mall -- sorry. no, it’s okay.we were at the mall for our first outing on saturday with her, and he left the mall andsaid he felt like a movie star, because everyone wanted to see him and meadow. so that in itof itself has made this whole thing worth it. i mean, she does nothing but help peoplesee him and not the chair. yeah. i’m sorry. so having a dog... no, no, please. by havingthe dog, it makes him more approachable. it makes you approachable. so people come upto you -- and what was it like then? so before, when you were in the mall, you didn’t likeit that people were just looking at you sitting in your chair? uh huh. yeah? and now, whatwas it like then, going to the mall the other day? like people wanted to come by me, seeme. they also tried to pet the dog. so really,

everyone -- you kind of found out, insteadof people looking at you all the time, they were like: “wow, who is this guy with thisdog?” did that feel good? uh huh. yeah. it really does. so are you ready to be a moviestar? yes. yes, good. good, i’m glad. everyone one of these families is so strong. they’reso happy in their lives. you know, they don’t walk around thinking that there is a problem,that they have a disability. they have issues -- we all have issues. and theirs are justa little different than yours or mine. and particularly, the kids are so resilient. andthese dogs mean so much to them. forget the task they do of picking up dropped items andopening and closing doors and turning lights off and on, the emotional support they getfrom having this dog with them just breaks

so much social ice, that it’s a wonderfulthing to see. charlie is brilliant. he’s a brilliant young man who is very charmingand funny. and nobody -- i mean, i think it’s hard for people when they see him. we do agreat job in this country of saying: “now, you leave little charlie alone.” you know,“don’t bother little charlie.” and so it makes, you know, people feel afraid tosay: “what’s the matter?” “why do you use that chair?” you know, we just getvery nervous about those things. and in charlie’s case, meadow is gonna open the world sociallyfor him in ways i don’t even think charlie completely understands yet. you know, sometimesthe fight to get out of bed every day is the biggest fight these people will ever face.and one of the great gifts the dogs give is

that they -- you have to get up. i mean, youhave to let them out. seriously, i think, you know, they say the statistics are around65 percent of people who get assistance dogs go back to work or school within the firstyear after placement. and i say it’s because you have to get up and let them out to goto the bathroom. you’re up. but, you know, it’s also that when the dog looks at theirperson, you’re, you know -- you’re damaged, and even your mom has to overlook your disabilitysomehow. the dog looks up at you, they don’t see that. matters not at all to the dog. becausein the dog’s eyes, you are the most perfect creation god has ever put on the face of thisearth. and i can’t tell you how i see that change people. being here at canine assistantsreally gives me a new appreciation of how

lucky i am for the life that i lead. also,being able to witness these amazing dogs working with these incredible people that have toface such adversity in their life. i hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as i have. i’mvictoria stilwell for ehow pets.

a dog called homeless

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