Kathy & Gary
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) over 13 years ago and most likely was living with the disease for several years prior. Growing up on a ranch, I was always a hard worker and a body on the go. However, when I started to experience double vision and weakness in my legs in 1992, I had no idea that eventually I would be diagnosed with MS. MS slowly degraded my vision and my ability to walk. Everyday tasks that were always so easy and quick for me became a frustrating struggle. I first started using a cane, then a walker, and eventually a motorized wheelchair to help me with mobility. My kids used to tease that they had to run or ride their bikes to keep up with me so losing my ability to walk was difficult to say the least. Regardless, I ventured on and remained as positive as possible and tried to adjust to my new body that I no longer had control over.
In 2009, I upgraded my scooter to an electric wheelchair as my means of transportation. Soon after, I hired a caregiver to help me with everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, laundry and cooking. In 2010, my family and I inquired about an assistance dog from The Joys of Living Assistance Dogs. I met with Joy and a service dog in training and became very excited about the possibility of receiving a dog to help me in ways I could no longer help myself.
In late 2012 (after two years of anticipation) I was notified that I had been selected to receive Gary, a two year golden retriever and graduate of The Joys of Living Assistance Dogs. I traveled from Bend to Salem and lived in a hotel for two weeks as I learned everything Gary had learned in order to make my life with MS more manageable. Gary has given me the confidence to navigate going out in public in a wheelchair. He opens doors I otherwise would not be able to. He picks up everything I drop (which seems to me more and more as the MS affects my fine motors skills). Gary turns lights off and on that I cannot reach. Gary attends all of my doctor’s appointments with me and provides support for the ever changing challenges my MS brings. He is my ever present companion and makes me feel loved. I now feel more independent and active than I have been in at least 10 years. This is all thanks to Gary, Joy, and the amazing trainers of the Joys of Living Assistance Dogs.
Brandy & Diego
My name is M."Brandy" Branzelle. I am from Massachusetts and currently reside in Northern California. I have served in US Army during Vietnam and the Cold War. I am presently a 100% disabled woman veteran. I am receiving treatment at the VA Hospital for injuries incurred while in service to our country. I am being treated for PTSD, MST, and several physical issues.
My role in the service included Military Intelligence Command and ASA (Army Security Agency) in Europe, South Asia, and the U.S. All of my work required Security Clearances.
In 2011, The Joys of Living Assistance Dogs (JLAD)’s Help for Heroes Program awarded me “Diego” - a Golden Retriever/Yellow Labrador mix. Having Diego since October has greatly impacted my life; at home, in the public arena, and socially.
Diego has provided me with more confidence in meeting the blessings of everyday life. I consider the word challenge as negative thinking, except in competitive games. I suffer from Osteoarthritis that at times causes difficulty doing physical tasks: gripping items, bending down to pick things off the floor, etc. I think the only body part not affected by this disease is my left little toe!
Additionally, I am hearing impaired. Therefore Diego serves as my ears. He alerts me to sirens, doorbells, telephones, knocking at the door, and many other sounds I am either unable to hear or locate the direction they come from. As my hearing may continue to deteriorate, Diego will have his job cut out for him. All the while, he will have a life of constant learning, a constant companion (who is a "crazy" lady that lives to laugh). By the way, Diego has the biggest smile I have yet seen on a canine.
I worked with the JLAD Director, Joy St. Peter and my assistance dog, Diego, during our training camp in October 2011. During that individual training, I experienced firsthand the life changing ways service dogs affect veterans in need. Seeing the difficulty I have descending stairs, Joy St. Peter suggested that I let go of the stairway hand rail, using only Diego’s support to descend the stairs. After moments of panic, and prayer, and trusting in Joy's assessment skills and Diego ability, I summoned the courage of the soldier within and we successfully completed the mission as directed. Many years have passed since I have felt so safe and free.
Help for Heroes restores confidence, self-worth and improves the self-image of a veteran. We only have to trust our faithful friends - both human and animal.
God bless all of you at JLAD for giving me, a veteran, the opportunity to be free. As you are now on point, thank you for your service.
God, Honor, Country
M "Brandy" Branzelle, USA, SA California
Steve & Jack
It happens EVERY time.
My name is Steve. When we walk into a room and all eyes focus on him. I have to admit he is athletic, smart, and handsome, with bright red hair. His presence is reassuring. His manner business like, with just a hint of impishness. He is the rock that I depend on. He is my balance dog, Jack.
Jack and I have been together for three months now and are inseparable. We work, play, and exercise together. In fact, he is better on the treadmill than I am. He is a three-year old American Golden Retriever, trained as a Parkinson’s assistance dog by Joys of Living Assistance Dogs based in Keizer, Oregon. I used to say he was trained as a balance dog but he does so much more.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago. I have tremors, balance issues, and stiffness in my muscles and joints. I am also a full-time, middle school, science teacher who happens to like my job very much. Therefore, looking ahead, I decided to find a strategy that would keep me functioning as a teacher and a contributing member of the community. The idea of an assistance dog was presented to me at an Early Onset support group. I sat next to a young man who had an assistance dog. The way the two worked together was amazing and throughout the whole meeting, I couldn’t stop watching them. I could tell they had been together for a long time because of the way they responded to each other. I noticed, not only did Fred (the dog) help with the young man’s balance he also extended the reach of his hands. The dog completed him, as a functioning human being. Fred had replaced what Parkinson’s had taken away. Unfortunately, the pair left before I could inquire about the service dog. But, I had found my new strategy.
My research led me to The Bergin Institute, which not only trains dogs, but trainers as well. Furthermore, they have a philosophy that a dog and the owner must be matched. To do this, the assistance companies administer a series of surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. A dog is placed with its new owner when an ideal match is made. Joys of Living Assistance Dogs’ owner and trainer, Joy St. Peter, is a graduate of this institute. I applied and hoped for the best. Jack and I first met during the initial interview for acceptance into the balance dog program. Jack was in training and I was presenting my case. From the onset, Jack and I hit it off. He walked in, came straight to me, and laid his head on my lap. As Joy and Jack demonstrated his abilities and repetoir of commands, I knew this was the strategy I was looking for. This would help me replace the skills and balance that I was losing. When they left, I felt an instant loss. I really hoped that if I did match up with a dog, it would be Jack.
Four months later, Joy called and informed me that Jack and I had matched up and she would like to do a walk about in a local mall. I was given a list of commands to learn. To help prepare me, my homeroom students tested me daily and had some good laughs at my mistakes. Thinking like a canine is very difficult. Humans think individually and dogs think as a pack. Changing your point-of-view is much harder than it seems. The day arrived and my wife, Diane, and I met Joy and Jack at the mall. We spent some time going over the commands and then we were off—Jack, the highly trained dog, and his bumbling handler. It is amazing how you can forget everything in a matter of seconds. At one point, as I hesitated at the top of the stairs, Jack turned and gave me a rather impatient look. I wasn’t training the dog; Jack, in essence, was training me. It was an awesome and humbling experience. The day went well and we made training dates for the next three weeks. Each week, Jack and I grew closer and the commands came easier. At this point, Jack still went home with Joy but I looked forward to our sessions. After the training dates came the most difficult time of all, the week of bonding.
Jack was ready for the transition of the bond from trainer to owner. This is a forced issue. Basically, Jack and I were tethered together for six days. Joy came over with Jack and a special leash. One end was tied around my waist and the other was attached to Jack's collar. I could take it off when I was in bed and in the shower. Otherwise, Jack and I went everywhere together. This was an important step in seeing if Jack and I were compatible working together full-time. This exercise made it really clear; we had to learn how to work together as a team. Posts seemed to be the most difficult. I would go around one side and Jack the other. I started to think more about my surroundings and safety, whereas Jack started to look at me as his charge and started to notice my warning signs. We had a few bumps and bruises at the end, but emerged a bonded and dedicated team.
After the bonding week, Jack and I started our full-time lives together. I introduced Jack to my school with a Public Service Announcement created by my students. We show up to work everyday with Jack carrying my lunch bag and guiding me in through the door. Jack has his own space in the center of the classroom and tracks me everywhere I go. His gaze is penetrating and intense. He is always assessing, always ready for the slightest signal or misstep, ready to come to my aid. It is amazing how he helps me maneuver through crowded hallways and active classrooms. He is patient as we continuously circle the classroom, helping students and giving directions. His quiet and serious demeanor instills confidence in both staff and students. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful assistant.
Just recently, Jack and I passed our final hurdle. This test put Jack and I into several situations in which public safety could be affected by how we responded to each scenario. We took the Public Access Test. This test is a nationally recognized service dog testing process. The test was extremely hard, and demanded our complete concentration and determination, but we passed with flying colors. We are now a certified team and have access to all public buildings and private businesses.
What does Jack do for me? He is my counterweight. I have a short leash that is attached to a harness around his chest. When I stand still I tend to wobble. By pulling on the leash I ground myself to Jack. When I start to fall, Jack has learned to side step and pull me back up. There have been some very close calls where he and I have used all of our strength in a tug-of-war against gravity. The great thing is he does this without pulling me over or tripping me. I haven’t fallen when Jack has been assisting me. Being tethered to a counterweight has grounded me better than any cane, walker, or medication has done.
Jack does so much more. When I do fall he is trained to help me up. At my command, his body becomes rigid and I use him as a bench to climb up off of the ground after the fall. If I don’t get up he is trained to get designated people, such as my wife Diane, to help me. He retrieves whatever I point a laser at. He puts his dishes on the counter when he is finished eating. He opens doors and drawers, removes the laundry from the dryer, turns lights off and on, and can trip the elevator and disabled door buttons. This is just a fraction of what he can do. The list goes on and on. Jack is my service dog, but he has also become my companion, my helper, and my friend.
Tollie & Toria
My name is Toria. I'm 33 years old and live with Muscular Dystrophy. I am able to move only my right hand to control my electric wheelchair. My family and I knew that it was only a matter of time until my limited mobility would require the aid of an assistance dog, specially trained to look after my needs.
In April 2006, Tollie, a year-old golden retriever, came to live with my family. What a difference he's made in my life! I'm enjoying a newfound independence and freedom through Tollie.
We were still getting to know each other when I took a trip to California in May to visit my sister. While she was at work one day, I was enjoying a rare afternoon of solitude when I suddenly lurched forward in my wheelchair. Although the seat belt kept me in my chair, I was left hanging upside down.
Tollie, recognizing my distress, immediately tried to push me back into position. Unfortunately, even as big as he is, Tollie was unable to right me in my chair. As he was trained to do, he removed the blanket that was covering my face, which allowed me to breathe a little easier. He also keep nudging my left arm to relieve the pressure from its hanging position.
I was pretty scared. Tollie stayed with me, right by my head, comforting me. It would be eight more hours until my sister would be home from work. Fortunately, a friend who lives in the area, summoned by my sister when I didn't answer the phone, rushed over to see what was wrong. Of course, the door was locked. Tollie raced to the door, opened it, and as he had been trained to do, led the neighbor right to me.
Within minutes, I was back in an upright position, having had enough of inspecting my sister's floor. Tollie is my hero. He did what he was trained to do: stay near me, help as best as he could, and perform the tasks for which he's been trained.
I know, that had it not been for Tollie, my situation could have been -- would have been -- a lot worse. I am forever grateful to Tollie and to The Joys of Living Assistance Dogs who selected him as a puppy for training, raised him, loved him, trained him, and trusted him to take care of me, especially in an emergency.
I love you, Tollie!