Archive for the ‘Service Animals’ Category

We Finally Know How Dogs Sniff Out Diabetes

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

From Gizmodo

George Dvorsky

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

For years, assistance dogs have been used to detect low blood sugar levels in their diabetic owners and warn of an impending hypoglycemia attack. Scientists have finally figured out how dogs are able to accomplish this feat—an insight that could lead to new medical sensors.

Dogs don’t so much see the world as they do smell it. Our canine companions can detect the tiniest odor concentrations—around one part per trillion. For us, that would be like detecting a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools. This allows them to work as medical detection dogs, where they sniff out various forms of cancer and diabetes.

In the case of diabetes, specially trained dogs can tell when their owner’s blood sugar level is low—a sign of a possible hypoglycemia attack. For people with type 1 diabetes, low blood sugar can cause problems like shakiness, disorientation, and fatigue. Failure to receive a sugar boost can lead to a seizure and even unconsciousness. For some, these episodes occur suddenly and with little warning. When a diabetes detection dog senses that their owner is in trouble, they notify them by performing a predetermined task, such as barking, laying down, or putting their paw on their shoulder.

But how do these dogs know? What is it, exactly, that they’re sensing or smelling? This question has mystified scientists for years, but a new study by researchers from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science and the University of Cambridge has finally provided the answer.

It’s isoprene. That’s what these dogs are smelling—a common natural chemical found in human breath.

The scientists recruited eight women with type 1 diabetes, and under controlled conditions, lowered their blood sugar levels. Using mass spectrometry, they looked for specific chemical signatures to detect the presence of certain molecules. Looking at the data, the researchers found that isoprene rose significantly during hypoglycemia (the medical term for critically low blood sugar levels). In some cases, the presence of isoprene nearly doubled.

Humans are oblivious to isoprene, but the researchers figure that dogs are particularly sensitive to the chemical, and can easily tell when their owner’s breath contains too much of it. As to why the body produces more isoprene during hypoglycemia, the researchers think it’s a byproduct of cholesterol production. Still, they’re not entirely sure why this chemical rises when blood sugar gets low.

Using this knowledge, the researchers would like to develop a medical sensor that does the same thing as diabetes sniffing dogs. What’s more, a handy breath device could replace the current finger prick test, which is inconvenient, painful, and relatively expensive.

It’s important that we don’t overstate some of the purported abilities of medical detection dogs. They seem to be pretty good at detecting certain cancers (e.g. urological cancers and breast cancer) and diabetes, but many of these accounts are anecdotal, and much of the research tied to these canine abilities is still in early stages. Claims that dogs can sniff out lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and even Parkinson’s Disease are still under investigation and are far from proven.

Still, it’s an exciting line of medical research that, like this recent study, could lead to new scientific insights and powerful new medical technologies.

Service dog recovering after surgery; veteran anxiously awaiting her return

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

CTService dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and one pint-sized Chihuahua mix is deeply missed by her owner as she convalesces at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, Ill., after back surgery. The dog, named Belle, developed a spinal disc extrusion that left her hind legs paralyzed on Thanksgiving, but she is slowly regaining the use of her legs after surgery. Her owner, Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan, says he misses Belle and hopes to have her home soon because she comforts him and helps him relate better to people. Chicago Tribune (tiered subscription model)

By Taylor W. Anderson, Chicago Tribune reporterJanuary 15, 2014

Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan is missing one of his most important troops: she’s a 3-year-old Chihuahua mix named Belle who’s trained to help him deal with his severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 69-year-old is coping while Belle — a service dog trained through a Chicago non-profit that since 2010 has paired dogs with vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related brain injuries — rehabilitates from a spine injury that paralyzed her on Thanksgiving Day.

“How am I doing without her? Not well,” Jordan said. “Because she’s my service dog, and we’ve been with each other since February.”

Jordan has been driving several times a week from his apartment in Markham to Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen to see Belle, who is learning to use her back legs again at the clinic after surgery. Typically, the two spend every moment of every day together.

Jordan and Belle are a team put together by War Dogs Making It Home, a charity that rescues dogs from animal shelters and matches them with veterans who need help.

“We save two lives at a time: one dog and one veteran,” said Eva Braverman, the agency’s president.

The dogs are trained to sense when its owner is stressed and comfort them.

Braverman said Jordan called her on Thanksgiving when she was cooking dinner for her family to tell her Belle wasn’t well. One of the dog’s spinal discs was extruding, and she became paralyzed. “I literally put $4,000 on two different credit cards to pay for the surgery,” she said.

Jordan is one of about 25 teams in the War Dogs program, where veterans bring their companions for training twice weekly for the first year and once a week the second. Veterans in the program have served in almost every major foreign combat since Vietnam, Braverman said. She said about half of the owners are Vietnam veterans.

The dogs learn the behavior of their veterans, moving into action when vets show signs of anger or stress. “I have to tell her, ‘Belle, I’m all right,'” Jordan said. “If it doesn’t look like it to her, she’ll just stay there (in my arms). She don’t leave.”

Dr. Amber Ihrke works at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, where Belle has been resting after her surgery. The site, which opened in 2013, is the third in the group, which also has locations in Chicago and Hanover Park.

“In three weeks, she’s gone from essentially paralyzed to walking around the room,” Ihrke said as Belle tried to stand on her hind legs in an IPC room in Homer Glen.

Jordan chokes back tears while getting ready to see Belle again. Doctors say they want Belle to get back to Jordan’s home so the two can help each other, but she still has a ways to go before being able to jump into Jordan’s arms.

“She helps me stay calm where I can actually deal with people better,” Jordan said. “It just helps me be more grounded.”

Integrative Pet Care is hosting an open house Feb. 8 to showcase the new partnership with War Dogs.

twanderson@tribune.com | Twitter: @TaylorWAnderson

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Service dog brings aid and friendship to girl with debilitating bone disease

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Service Dog for AniceeTen-year-old Anicee Lamoreaux has already had 100 broken bones due to osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, but that’s not stifling her excitement over her new service dog, Pearl. Pearl hasn’t completed her training yet, but once she does, she’ll be the newest Lamoreaux family member, responsible for helping Anicee perform daily tasks. But more importantly, Pearl will be the friend Anicee needs. Anicee’s parents, both of whom also have osteogenesis imperfecta, are raising money to help cover the $10,000 cost for Pearl and her training. Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)

They’ve only known each other a few short weeks, but Anicee and Pearl are already partners in crime.

Pearl, a 14-week-old labradoodle, has a fluffy puppy-dog face anyone would love. But she is loved most of all by her 10-year-old owner, Anicee Lamoreaux, who is raising money to keep Pearl as her personal service dog.

Anicee, a fifth-grader at Birch Elementary, has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition means Anicee can break a bone simply by coughing or sneezing too hard.

Anicee uses a specialized wheelchair to get around, and Pearl will be a valuable partner who can help her open doors, help with errands and bring her medication or other essential items.

Most of all, Pearl also will be Anicee’s constant companion.

“I’ll have a buddy to spend time with,” she said, feeding treats to her pet in her living room Thursday. “I don’t have that many friends, so I’ll have a friend who will be with me every day, hour, minute.”

Anicee was adopted from Belize in 2010 by her parents, Chris Lamoreaux and Lisa Ferrerio. Both parents also have osteogenesis imperfecta and said they wanted to adopt a child who had a similar condition.

“We knew how much we could offer her,” Ferrerio said. “We know exactly what it’s like to go through surgery or be talked about in school.”

Anicee’s parents also wanted her to have extra help, but the cost of service animals can be overwhelming, especially on top of other medical bills.

The family and their friends are organizing several fundraisers to help cover the estimated $10,000 annual cost to provide Pearl’s specialized training.

As a service dog, she must undergo many hours of training that will familiarize her with Anicee’s specialized care.

That’s worth it for Ferrerio, who remembers the companionship and warmth of her own service dog, Kosmo. Ferrerio had Kosmo when she was a teenager.

When Ferrerio’s longtime friend, dog trainer Ana Melara, came across Pearl, she knew the puppy would be a good fit for the family because of her low-key, gentle temperament. Melara is in charge of much of Pearl’s service dog training.

“She’s just such a sweet dog,” she said.

When Anicee met her dog for the first time, she said she couldn’t contain her excitement.

“I was jumping up and down. I could have broken the wall,” she said with a smile. “I wish I could take her for the whole day.”

Pearl isn’t a permanent resident at Anicee’s house yet, though. Melara is in charge of training the puppy in all the basics, and it could take up to two years before Anicee and her dog become permanent companions. Right now, Anicee and Pearl hang out about twice a week.

 

Help Anicee and PearlBirch Elementary School student Anicee Lamoreaux is raising money to train her service dog, Pearl.

An art silent auction, featuring art by Anicee, will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 26 at Pearl’s training center, Training with Grace, 9100 W. Sixth Ave. in Lakewood. For more information, go to facebook.comand search “Anicee and Pearl” for updates and other fundraising opportunities.

To learn more about Anicee’s fundraisers or to donate money to help train Pearl, visithttp://aniceefunds.com.

Ferrerio said the training will help make sure Pearl is the right dog for her daughter, who has experienced about 100 broken bones in her short 10 years. Anicee also has undergone three major surgeries to help strengthen her spine and legs, and she hopes to have Pearl nearby when she undergoes another surgery on her arms sometime next year.

“Pearl will be so important in Anicee’s life,” Ferrerio said. “We’ll need her to be Anicee’s arms and legs, and we need to know that Pearl won’t bolt when she sees something like a squirrel or duck — that would break Anicee’s arm.”

So far, Anicee and Pearl are already fast friends. Anicee can’t wait to introduce her dog to her fifth-grade class and take her dog on the playground.

Her dad said he’s happy Anicee is getting the opportunity. In Belize, she didn’t have the same medical opportunities or the chance to have a service dog.

“Here, she has the medical accessibility she needs,” he said.

Anicee’s grandmother, Diane Holstein, said Pearl will bridge the gap between her granddaughter and her peers. Right now, kids don’t always know how to interact with Anicee, but Pearl’s presence will give them a way to talk and ask questions, she said.

“People will see Anicee at King Soopers, the library, out in the community, and Pearl will help people get to know her,” she said

Diabetes alert dog brings comfort, relief to boy and his family

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Diabetic Alert DogsKermit, a 2-year-old service dog trained to detect fluctuations in human blood sugar levels, helps 9-year-old Kiernan Sullivan monitor his type 1 diabetes, giving Kiernan’s parents some extra relief. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to problems such as neuropathy, limb loss and even blindness, so specially trained dogs, along with tools such as glucose monitors that help keep blood sugar levels within the normal range, can improve the quality of diabetes patients’ lives, said physician Andrew Ahmann. The Oregonian (Portland)

When 9-year-old Kiernan Sullivan started school this month, he attends each class in the company of his new best friend – a 2-year-old service dog named Kermit.

“It’s fun but hard,” Kiernan says of his new charge. “You have to feed him, take him out to bathroom and take him out for walks.”

Kiernan has Type 1 diabetes, which usually affects children and young adults and accounts for about 5 percent of all diabetes cases. It occurs when the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert starches, sugars and other food into energy.

Kiernan, who was diagnosed when he was six, experienced a grand mal seizure in November. The experience was scary, but his parents thought they could manage Kiernan’s disease with careful meal planning and regular insulin shots.

Then one Saturday morning in March, Kiernan’s mom, Michelle Sullivan, awoke to a horrifying scene.

Her husband, Stuart, had left early that morning to go grocery shopping so the family could do something together. He kissed her goodbye and closed the bedroom door so she could sleep in a bit.

She awoke to her husband’s terrified screams as he came home to find their son lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Kiernan had wandered into the kitchen to find some sugary food to bolster his blood sugar but found only sugar-free licorice. Bright red licorice was still smeared on his face when his parents found him.

The Sullivans realized they needed help. Thanks to the help of a staff member at Kiernan’s school, City View Charter School in Hillsboro, they found out about Dogs Assisting Diabetics.

About Dogs Assisting Diabetics

The Forest Grove-based nonprofit was founded by dog trainer Kristin Tarnowski and Darlene LaRose Cain, a former national chair for the American Diabetes Association.

Since the organization launched in 2009, Tarnowski has trained more than 35 dogs to be service-alert dogs.

The dogs initially came from breeders, but Tarnowski recently started her own breeding program with registered Labrador retrievers so she can start training them as puppies.

(Kermit came from the Guide Dogs for the Blind breeding program but failed his final test).

The training process can take at least six months to one year.

To train the dogs, Tarnowski places a swab of sweat collected from a diabetic person whose glucose levels are high or low and puts it in a sealed vial.

When the dog approaches the vial and reacts to it, she rewards them with treats and affection.

“We’re getting the dog to think of it as a game and have fun of it,” Tarnowski says. “The dog gets excited and wants to keep looking for it.”

The dogs can smell a metabolic change that takes place when someone’s blood sugar changes, although researchers still aren’t sure exactly what the dogs detect.

The dogs cost $15,000 and are in high demand. Each year, Dogs Assisting Diabetics receives about 200 requests from people all over the world.

Priority goes to people who have a high medical need for the dog, such as those whose blood-sugar levels are high enough to require dialysis.

How it works

When Kiernan’s blood sugar levels veer away from normal levels – below 80 or above 180 milligrams per deciliter – Kermit alerts him in one of three ways.

The dog will paw at the boy’s leg or chew on an orange strip on his leash called a “brain cell.”

Kermit continues to alert until Kiernan acknowledges him with a treat. Then he can check his blood-sugar levels and treat them accordingly.

Because Kiernan’s blood sugar levels fluctuate so frequently, the family decided against a Continuous Glucose Monitor that alerts during changes in glucose levels, Michelle Sullivan says.

The monitor’s frequent sensors can become a nuisance for someone like Kiernan, who can drop from a normal blood sugar level down to 50 mg/dL after walking just a few blocks.

Properly trained service dogs can offer great value to people with diabetes, says Dr. Andrew Ahmann, director of the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center at Oregon Health & Science University.

“I have no doubt that they can alert individuals who have low blood sugar at a time when the person themselves does not recognize the problem,” he says.

Since Kermit alerts Kiernan as soon as his blood sugar changes, he’ll know to check the levels sooner. He has less risk of reaching the dangerous highs or lows that can send him into a seizure.

Over time, that careful monitoring can help bring three-month blood sugar averages, called A1Cs, closer to normal range.

“That’s adding time to their life,” Tarnowski says. “High blood sugars contribute to blindness, limb loss or neuropathy.”

According to one study, one in 20 children will die in their sleep from low blood sugar levels.

Yet Ahmann cautions that little research is available that proves the dogs’ effectiveness in preventing severe hypoglycemia or in improving overall glucose control.

The dogs should never replace the use of blood sugar testing meters that provide accurate readings, he says.

“I don’t think the use of diabetic assistance dogs is a replacement for continue glucose monitoring or intermittent glucose monitoring,” Ahmann says, “but the dogs do provide another layer of security that is very important to kids and their families.”

For Kiernan’s mom, that furry security blanket is priceless.

“I know that Kermit isn’t 100 percent, but he’s at least given me an extra level, just an extra step of assurance,” she says. “I hope that Kiernan doesn’t have another seizure, but Kermit is just an extra layer of protection.”

If you want to help: The Sullivan family is struggling to pay for Kermit, who costs $15,000. So far, the family has paid $5,000 and is on a payment plan for the remaining amount.

The family has established a fundraising page on Youcaring.com called “Help Kiernan Bring Kermit home” that allows people to donate to his cause.

You can also donate to Dogs Assisting Diabetics at dogsassistingdiabetics.com.

Service dog helps young man with no limbs succeed

Friday, June 28th, 2013

assistance-dog=helps-man_20130627122543_320_240Brandon Scott was born without most of his four limbs due to a rare disease, but with the help of his service dog, Rona, he recently graduated from college and is planning a career in sports media or public relations. Rona was trained by Canine Companions for Independence and has been by Scott’s side since he applied for a dog as a sixth-grader. WISH-TV (Indianapolis) (6/27)

Updated: Thursday, 27 Jun 2013, 1:42 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 27 Jun 2013, 12:28 PM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Indianapolis resident Brandon Scott has a rare disease, but motivation and a K-9 friend helped him beat the odds.

Brandon was born missing most of his four limbs, Rona the dog acts as his hands. She carries things and picks things up for him.

He applied through Canine Companions for Independence in the sixth grade, so he could get used to working with helper.

When he left for Ball State, his parents were relieved that he had such a reliable partner by his side.

Rona gave him the ability to feel independent and made the transition to college much easier.

Now that Brandon has graduated, he says he wants to be on a sports talk radio show or work with public relations for an Indycar team.

He is even training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Click here to learn more about Canine Companions for Independence.

 

Good news for Iraq war vet’s service dog: Biopsy shows tumor is benign

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

SANTA CRUZ — An Iraq War veteran has received a slew of good fortune during the past few days — learning late Monday morning that the tumor removed from her four-legged, steadfast companion last week is benign.

Devon, a 7-year-old golden retriever, underwent surgery early Friday morning to have the mass removed from his left front paw. It was shipped to a lab for further testing, and if the results showed a malignancy, chemotherapy or radiation treatments likely would have been needed.

Dr. David Shuman, who operates the Santa Cruz Westside Animal Hospital, donated his services to remove the growth, and when the lab learned of Santa Cruz resident Tori Stitt’s story, “they donated their services and put ‘STAT’ all over it,” he said Monday.

Meanwhile, when the community learned the invaluable services Devon provides to help Stitt cope with post-traumatic stress disorder — including licking her awake to interrupt persistent nightmares — they eagerly opened their wallets, donating about $8,000.

Shuman and Stitt both expressed their appreciation for the outpouring of support.

“It’s amazing to see how the community will come together to support someone like me,” Stitt said. “The cards, the checks — it’s like, wow.”

Devon entered Stitt’s life in 2009, not long after the former Navy lieutenant returned from a yearlong deployment to northern Iraq. During her time there, she trained staff members how to defuse improvised explosive devices and witnessed many of her trainees injured and killed while working in the field.

Plagued by recurring nightmares, and increasingly isolating herself from society, she sought help from the Assistance Service Dog Educational Center, a nonprofit that provides service dogs to disabled veterans.

Ever since, Stitt has become more outgoing and involved in the community, befriending such staunch supporters as Santa Cruz resident Rachel Boyd, who cares for Devon while his owner works. He was back in Shuman’s care Monday, getting his sutures removed and paw rebandaged.

“As soon as the skin heals and we make sure everything’s covered over, it’s a done deal,” Shuman said.

Meanwhile, the funds donated over the weekend have been set aside in a client account.

“He should be a very well cared for dog for the rest of his life,” Shuman said.

By Kimberly White

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted:   02/04/2013 01:51:09 PM PST

Feds to provide veterinary medical insurance for veterans’ service dogs

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Some 2,500 service dogs that aid disabled veterans may soon be insured for routine veterinary medical care including annual vaccinations, exams and certain lab tests. The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking veterinary medical insurance for the dogs. The coverage will only apply to those that are actively engaged as working dogs. Time.com/Battleland blog

Depending on which vet you talk to, health  care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs is either the cat’s  meow…or going to the dogs.

We mean that literally: the VA is seeking to keep its growing pack of service  dogs provided to wounded veterans in tip-top shape by buying “veterinary health  insurance and wellness coverage” for 301, and as many as many as 2,500, dogs now  helping veterans around the nation.

It’s another example of the hidden costs of war that you might not think  about unless you stumbled across a contract solicitation for it. Vets get dogs from the VA to help them  with physical disabilities; there is also discussion about expanding such programs to aid vets with  PTSD or other mental ills.

“Coverage will encompass Service Dogs owned by Veterans suffering from  visual, hearing and/or substantial mobility impairments and may be expanded to  include any other future disabilities approved by VA,” the solicitation says. “The Contractor shall provide VA with full comprehensive, quality veterinary  health care insurance coverage for all Service Dogs approved by VA for receipt  of insurance coverage regardless of age, breed, geographic location or  pre-existing condition as long as the Service Dog is determined capable of  performing as a Service Dog.”

The breeds to be covered include boxers, collies, Dobermans, German  shepherds, golden retrievers, great Danes, black, golden and yellow Labs,  Labradoodles, poodles, pugs, and Rottweilers. They range in age from 1 to 12  years.

Under the deal, VA service dogs will be entitled to these vaccinations:

– Distemper Parvo

– Leptospirosis

– Hepatitis

– Rabies

– Lyme Disease

– Bordetella (2 per year)

…and these annual exams:

– Otoscopic Exam

– Opthalmic Exam

– Rectal Exam

– Dental Exam

– Neurologic Exam

– Cardiovascular Evaluation

– Weight/Nutritional Counseling

– Coat & Skin Evaluation

– Abdominal Palpation

– Urogenital Evaluation

– Musculoskeletal Evaluation

– Pulmonary/Lung Evaluation

– Tonometry/Ocular Pressure

– Intestinal Parasite Fecal Exam

– Roundworm and Hookworm Dewormings

– Blood Sample Collect/Prep

– Blood Cell Count

– Differential Exam of Blood Cells

– Internal Organ Function Screens (liver, kidney, calcium/phosphorus,  cholesterol and diabetes)

– Canine Dental Prophylaxis Protocol (utilizes one blood screening and one  internal function screen, listed above)

– Urine Sample Collect/Prep – Free Catch

– Urinalysis – Individual Tests

– Urine Specific Gravity

– Urine Sediment Exam

– Chest X-Rays (3 views)

– Electrocardiograms

– Ear Swab and Microscopic Exam

Weight/Nutritional Counseling?

As well as:

– Dental Cleaning (sedation/general anesthesia is required for all  cleanings)

– Grooming (Blind Veteran-owned Service Dogs only)

– Heartworm/Lyme/Ehrlichia Test – Rocky Mountain Tick Fever

– Free Interstate Health Certificates (when needed)

Of course, such care won’t continue forever, according to the VA:

Upon successful completion of the annual comprehensive exam, VA will certify  or non-certify each Service Dog as fit/unfit for further duty. Those Service  Dogs determined by VA as non-certifiable will no longer be eligible for  insurance coverage and the Contracting Officer via contract modification in  accordance with Section 5.4.2 will terminate the insurance coverage for the  non-certifiable Service Dog.

We’ve asked the VA for an estimate of the annual per-dog cost, but it’s bound  to be more than you might think, given the VA’s response to a potential bidder  who asked if his employees would need security clearances if their company won  the contract:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requires that all contractor  personnel with access to VA sensitive data have a fingerprint check adjudicated  favorably and a security investigation, which includes submission of various  security documents, be favorably evaluated before access may be granted to VA  information. In addition, all contractor personnel must successfully complete  the following training each year:  VA Cyber Security Awareness and Rules of  Behavior training, VA privacy training,  and any additional cyber security  or privacy training deemed necessary by the Contracting Officer and/or  Contracting Officer Representative.

Wonder if the dogs have to be so, ahem, vetted, as well?

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/01/24/taking-care-of-a-vets-best-friend/#ixzz2JJS4ZQSG

Abused children find comfort in furry friend

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

At the Snohomish County Courthouse, child interview specialist Gina Coslett of Dawson Place shows off Harper Lea, a 2-year-old lab trained to comfort children who are being asked to talk about crimes, or testify in a trial. Harper is a new addition to Dawson Place, which is the county's child advocacy center.

Harper is there as young victims of abuse talk about what happened

By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer
Harper is a dainty blonde with a heart for service — and chew toys.
Last month, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever started working at Dawson Place, the county’s child advocacy center that serves more than 1,000 abused children a year.
Harper is a special pooch whose job is to offer kids comfort at times when they may be scared, confused and uncomfortable.
She snuggles with children who are asked to recount horrific crimes committed against them. Her coat often soaks up their tears. Harper senses when kids need to be nuzzled or when a good dog trick will chase away the hurt.
Children often leave her side, saying, “I think she loves me. I think she’s going to miss me.”
Since she was a puppy, Harper has been raised to be a service dog. She received extensive training through the California-based Canine Companions for Independence.
Her handler, child interview specialist Gina Coslett had been waiting almost a year to be paired with Harper. Coslett was convinced that she wanted a canine partner after working with another service dog named Stilson.
Stilson, a stocky black Labrador, works in the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office and has helped out at Dawson Place.
When he came to the office in 2006, Stilson was only the second service dog in the nation used by prosecutors.
He was so good at his job that people were convinced that Dawson Place also should use a service dog to help child victims.
The center offers centralized assistance for physically and sexually abused children. Medical personnel, counselors, advocates, state caseworkers, prosecutors and police are available in the same building to help streamline assistance to children and their families.
Children and teens receive free medical exams, mental health assessments and counseling. The center also houses detectives and prosecutors who investigate crimes against children.
Now through a partnership, the county’s law enforcement agencies all pay for Coslett’s salary and Harper’s expenses, said Mary Wahl, the executive director at Dawson Place.
Harper lives with Coslett and has become a part of the family. She’s even teaching Coslett’s other dog, Duca, a miniature Pinscher and rat terrier mix, some much-needed manners.
“They really are best friends,” Coslett said.
Harper loves to play, chase balls and buddy around with other dogs, but when her work vest is on she’s all business.
As a forensic interview specialist, it’s Coslett’s job to ask children about alleged crimes, either committed against them or witnessed by them. She must remain neutral and disconnected from the emotions that often fill the room during these interviews. She can’t hug the child or offer them any comforting words. There is no parent with the child and Coslett isn’t a therapist. That’s not her role.
“It’s so hard not to reach out, whether I believe them or not,” said Coslett, a mom and grandmother.
That’s where Harper comes in.
The friendly pooch greets the children and sits next to them while Coslett asks questions. She lays her head in their laps. Small hands pet her shiny coat. Sometimes it is easier for children to talk to her about their hurt than to the adult in the room. Harper won’t leave their side until Coslett gives the command.
Coslett said it is remarkable to see the dog follow a child’s cues. She senses when to get closer without being told. Harper can smell stress and fear.
“She knows she’s there to comfort,” Coslett said. “She takes over and knows what to do.”
The kids also like her tricks. She can turn off lights, give a high-five and carry her own leash. It’s heartening to hear a child’s laugh or see him smile after hearing about his pain in such detail, Coslett said. Harper provides some of that healing.
The Labrador was named after Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The book reflects on justice, doing the right thing and love, Coslett said. Harper seemed like a fitting name for a dog with so much heart.

Boy with epilepsy opens up about his life with service dog

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Obtaining a service dog has been life-changing for 9-year-old Evan Moss, who has epilepsy and wrote about his condition and his dog to educate people. Evan’s dog Mindy alerts his parents when he has a seizure, allowing them to treat him. Evan and his family raised money to purchase Mindy by selling a book Evan wrote about needing her, and the proceeds allowed them to help other children obtain dogs as well. CNN

 

My name is Evan Moss and I’m a 9-year-old boy who likes Pokemon! A lot!

When I was 1 month old I started having seizures, and when I was 4 years old I went to Dr. Weiner and he gave me brain surgery to stop my seizures. It stopped my seizures for two years but not my appetite, it just kept on growing! It is still growing.

After two years my seizures came back and now they are longer. When was little I had like 15 small seizures a day. Now I have 10-minute seizures but I only have one every 14 days or so.

I have two dogs. One is Dinky and the other is Mindy. Dinky is our family dog and he really belongs to my sister, Aria. Mindy is my seizure dog.

Getting Mindy took a long time. We had to raise a lot of money and wait almost a year to meet her and then we had to drive from Virginia to Ohio to get Mindy.

Having Mindy is very fun! When I first got Mindy it was pretty hard because she didn’t listen to me, but now she does and she knows a lot of commands. I’ve even taught her some new things, like climbing up into the fort section of my swing set. The best thing about having Mindy is playing with her and I love racing with her. If she is on her leash she runs right next to me but I know she can run really fast.

I have epilepsy but I can do some extraordinary things like ride a zip line! Epilepsy can also be bad, though, and I’ve heard about some seizures that can kill you! Sometimes I worry that will happen to me but I don’t think about that too much, plus I have Mindy to help me.

Mindy barks when I have a seizure so my parents will know. When I have a seizure, my mom and dad give me medicine to help stop the seizure. People ask me a lot what it feels like but it’s hard to describe and sometimes I don’t remember having a seizure.

If I met someone who just found out they have epilepsy I’d say, “Don’t worry, you’re not in this alone!”

Trained comfort dogs help Sandy Hook survivors cope

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

In the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., seven therapy dogs from the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, part of Lutheran Church Charities, have been on hand at funerals and other gatherings to help people cope. “The dogs have become the bridge,” said Lynn Buhrke, a handler for one of the dogs. “People just sit down and talk to you.” The group was established after five people were killed by a gunman at Northern Illinois University in 2008. Discovery

The dogs all come from the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry at Lutheran Church Charities, based near Chicago. The dogs were present yesterday at Newtown High School when President Obama spoke about the recent massacre.

“Dogs are non-judgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of  anyone,” Tim Hetzner, president of the organization, told the Chicago Tribune. “It creates the atmosphere for people to share.”

People and kids often pet the dogs while they talk or pray with the handlers. Sometimes those who are grieving prefer just to spend quiet time with the dogs, receiving comfort from their assuring presence.

The dogs are deployed during national disasters. But they also handle daily matters where their soothing help is needed, such as at hospitals and nursing homes. Each dog carries a business card listing its name, Facebook page, twitter account and e-mail address so that those who connect can stay in touch.

At present, the following K-9 Comfort Dogs are in Connecticut: Abbi, Barnabas, Chewie, Hannah, Luther, Prince and Ruthie.

“The dogs have become the bridge,” Lynn Buhrke, 66, who is a dog handler for a female golden retriever named Chewie, told the Chicago Tribune. “People just sit  down and talk to you.”

Yesterday the dogs went to Christ the King Lutheran Church, where funerals are being held this week for two of the slain children.

Of kids grappling with the tragedy, Hetzner said, “You could tell which ones …were really struggling with their grief  because they were quiet. They would pet the dog, and  they would just be quiet.”

Adults and seniors are also approaching the dogs, many with tears streaming down their faces. One man said the massacre brought back to life other deaths in his family. He shared that “the entire town is suffering.”

The comfort dog project has been in place for four years. It began in 2008, after a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University. Now 60 dogs in six states are prepared to help out when tragedy strikes.

Today, the six dogs sent to Connecticut are with surviving Sandy Hook students.

“There are a lot of people that are hurting,” Hetzner said. It’s “good for the children to have something that is not the shooting.”

Image: Lutheran Church Charities