International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners


Marvelous Mutts of Mine

by Anthony Thanasayan

The first time I saw a service dog in action was in San Francisco a few years ago when I attended a business talk given by a tetraplegic in his mid-40s. As he spoke, next to him lay his assistance dog, a yellow Labrador retriever in "uniform." The uniform was a backpack specially designed for dogs and tied around its body. In the backpack the speaker had stashed everything he needed: his drinking cup, notebook, his medication, and even a catheter.

None of us paid much notice to the dog, until the man accidentally knocked his notebook off the table. The Labrador cocked up its ears immediately. Before any able-bodied member of the audience could spring forth to help, the speaker gave the command to search and the dog promptly got up to retrieve his notebook. Then it rose on its hind legs and rested his front paws on the man's lap, the notebook neatly between its teeth, tail wagging. The dog waited patiently until its owner had taken the object from its mouth and placed it on the table, before it got down to assume its previous position. Later, I found out that the speaker's special companion was trained to help the handicapped lead more fulfilling lives.

I thought then: Cool! I wish I could own a dog like that someday.

My wish came true last year, but it wasn't without initial problems.

Everyone I talked to about getting a dog had discouraged me; they said I would be inviting more trouble for myself. Somehow they couldn't imagine a physically-disabled person with a dog. To them, a dog and a wheelchair were not compatible. They were more eager to tell me about the difficulties they thought a situation like that would bring me, than the untold benefits and possibilities that would be open to me just by having a pet dog. But thankfully, I had trusted my instincts. Had I listened to them, I would never have known the rich and amazing new world I am experiencing today with my canine companions which I've trained to be my assistants.

Today, my dogs (I have since acquired an Alsatian, after my first dog, a Rottweiler) help me accomplish many of my daily tasks that used to be too much a problem, or impossible, to achieve on my own. Picking up objects is one example; it also happens to be their favourite task. For a person who is unable to bend down to pick up stuff, it is a dream come true. It can be anything - a comb, a crumpled piece of paper, a water tumbler, a five sen coin - and both my Alsatian and Rottweiler will retrieve it for me without fail.

My room has never been tidier. My aunt who has often complained about my unkempt room is impressed! My dogs are smart at getting into hard-to-reach areas such as under the bed or table.

Getting my soiled clothes to the wash used to be a pain but not anymore. All I have to do is say the word and they're off to my room to seek as many smelly clothes as they can find, and they'll bring them to me in the laundry area where I'll be waiting.

They also pick up my mail for me, after the postman is safely away from my gate and across the block!

My dogs are also good at receiving articles from my aunt or my grandmother (who uses a walking frame) from anywhere in the house and bringing them to me, and visa-versa. Their chores include running upstairs to get something I want and down again with the object in their mouth.

Life has changed so much for me now that I have my four-legged friends. Stairs are no more a problem at home because whenever I need something from upstairs, I send my dogs. In many ways, my canny canines make up for my paralyzed legs. I don't feel restricted like before. Things get passed around very quickly and efficiently between my family and I nowadays, thanks to my marvelous mutts!

In addition, my dogs enjoy searching for and fetching my house keys. Gone are the times when hours are spent finding misplaced keys; the dogs, with their acute senses, can locate the keys easily. They can also open and close doors for me, and turn on or off the lights in my room.

Right now I am teaching them to push and pull my wheelchair. This skill will come in handy in overcoming difficult slopes or going uphill.

Furthermore, they are ever so gentle with me - never lunging or tugging at the leash. It's as if they know they have to be extra careful or I may get hurt. When we're out for walks, they gingerly keep pace with me (in my wheelchair), never once rushing off.

My Alsatian not only excels in pushing my wheelchair but frequently does it even without me giving the command - typical of the breed's characteristics. The Rottweiler, meanwhile, tries to outdo his partner when it comes to giving body support, something which he has plenty of.

Once I slipped from the toilet seat and in came my knight in shining black coat. A dramatic rescue manoeuvre was executed; actually I just clung on to the mutt and swung back into my wheelchair.

Physical strength isn't the only thing I get from my dogs. They also help me emotionally and often lift my spirit. Being in a wheelchair, it is not uncommon to feel vulnerable especially when

encountering strangers in new places and surroundings. With my companions around me, I know no harm can come to me because I know that they would defend me to the end. Hence I have the confidence and freedom to do what I wish, like venturing to the nearby park at whatever time I like without having to look over my shoulder all the time.

As for bouts of depression, I don't remember having any lately; not since my dogs came along, anyway. Who could possibly feel down when surrounded by their good humour and energy? And since I've got them, I've been healthier too! My visits to the doctor have reduced significantly and I've saved quite a sum on medical bills. The benefits of having my service dogs as lifetime partners are never-ending. I could go on and on but space constraint does not permit. My canine companions have helped build my confidence and self-esteem in more ways than I've imagined possible. They have helped me reach heights and proportions far greater in the few months that I've had my canine companions than in my years without them. Their non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance of me and my disability itself speaks millions. I can now face the future boldly, knowing that I am not alone in tackling new challenges or obstacles whatever they may be, because my two loyal friends will be by my side.

So the next time you see me in the park or at some place with my Rottweiler on my right and my Alsatian on the left, you'd better make way. For coming your way is one hell of a team, that's what we are!

Anthony Thanasayan welcomes mail and feedback. Readers can write to him c/o:

Section 2 * Star Publications * 13 Jalan 13/6 * 46200 Petaling Jaya * Fax: 03-7554039 / 7552959

E-mail: ant@pc.jaring.my

Copyright 1997 Star Publications (M) Bhd. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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