Four-Legged Lifesavers: Specially trained dogs enhance owners’ quality of life.
Dogs are known to be man’s best friend; they also can be lifesavers.
Specially trained dogs can be trained to warn their owners of impending problems related to a spectrum of maladies, including diabetes and blindness.
In Detroit’s Jewish community, individuals are enhancing their lives through these service dogs and some are training puppies so they can enhance the lives of others.
Joey Selesny of Southfield spent many hours researching the possibility of obtaining a service dog to give more quality of life to his daughter, Ariella, 13.
“Ariella has Williams Syndrome (WS), a rare genetic condition characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities,” Selesny says. “There are very few organizations that allow children under 18 to work with their dogs. I found that Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) had the best reputation in the industry for good dogs. Their application process is rigorous — it took us almost two years to receive a dog — and their training process is among the best.
“Our dog, Davielle II, has been with us seven years and is part of the family. Ariella is the recipient, and I’m the facilitator. During our amazing two weeks of training at their facility in Delaware, Ohio, we found the staff to be completely committed and the dogs loveable and brilliant.”
The dogs learn a minimum of 40 commands, including turning on and off lights, pushing buttons for automatic door access, picking objects off counters and a lap command to lay across the recipient when she needs to calm down. It is estimated that breeding and training each dog amounts to $40,000, but all dogs and services are provided free of charge.
Yet, not all service dogs are free or even covered by insurance.
Sierra Richmond, 45, of West Bloomfield was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and has taken insulin since she was 10 months old. She has had difficulty controlling the highs and lows of her blood sugar levels over the years and has suffered blackouts and other problems.
Richmond has been raising funds to purchase a Diabetic Alert Service Dog or DAD. These dogs are trained to give their human partners a signal that alerts them when there are changes in their blood sugar levels.
“Medical insurance doesn’t cover the cost of purchasing a DAD, so I started fundraising for my dog,” says Richmond, a single parent and IT specialist. “With a DAD, I’ll know more quickly about the rises and drops of my blood sugar levels, which should help to prevent complications from those fluctuations.”
Richmond, who is Jewish, is waiting for her DAD from Heads Up Hounds (HUH) in Nebraska, which trains rescue dogs found at shelters.
“I selected this company because I’ve worked with animal shelters and rescues for 12 years,” Richmond says. “HUH dogs are expensive ($8,000 plus travel expenses), but less costly than dogs from traditional diabetic alert dog companies ($15,000-$25,000).”
Jamie Cook, HUH president, says, “We’ve reduced costs by not investing in breeding our dogs, by matching the right dog with a person, and by our specialized training program that focuses on the dog smelling the client’s saliva and alerting his person if there’s a rapid fluctuation in blood sugar levels. The dogs are trained to nudge their person with their nose when they detect changes.”
When she reaches her fundraising goal and her number comes up on the waiting list, Richmond will go to Nebraska for three days of training with her dog. To donate, go to https://www.youcaring.com/
Leader Dogs For
Closer to home is the well-known Leader Dogs for the Blind organization headquartered in Rochester.
“It’s not easy to be a puppy raiser, providing basic training to the puppies beginning at 7 weeks old, and then giving them back to the organization for evaluation hoping they’ll be future guide dogs,” says Sherrill Platt of Oak Park, a volunteer puppy raiser and puppy program counselor for Leader Dogs for the Blind. “But it’s a labor of love. I just returned Levi, our 20th puppy, for his formal training.
“My job is to teach the puppy basic obedience and good manners, and expose him to new experiences including walking in crowds, walking on slippery floors, taking him on public transportation, and making sure he’s accustomed to loud noises or getting bumped by a shopping cart,” Platt explains. “When Young Israel of Oak Park holds a special event, we attend the buffet making sure he knows better than taking food off the table or pulling me to another person.”
Besides raising puppies, the Platt family also hosts a selected breeding dad and provides a foster home for the life of the dog. Kapten has been with the Platts for six years. Leader Dog provides veterinary care while host families are responsible for all costs related to routine care, feeding and transporting the dog to the Rochester Hills campus.
Karen West of Beverly Hills has raised puppies for nine years for Leader Dogs and is also a volunteer puppy counselor. As puppy counselors, she and Platt serve as mentors for other puppy raisers, give obedience classes and arrange for socialization events for the puppies.
“Recent socialization opportunities included touring Cranbrook Gardens, a scavenger hunt in downtown Birmingham, riding an Amtrak train to Detroit, visiting Temple Israel and a nursery school, and going for a group walk around Quarton Lake,” West says.
“We also take our puppies to grocery stores, banks, synagogues, restaurants, libraries, ball games and to the theater,” she says. “My husband frequently takes Tzeitel with him to work. There was a mandatory fire drill at GM, which meant my husband and Tzeitel had to calmly walk down eight flights of stairs together in the midst of a very large crowd of other people using the stairs. Tzeitel heeled beautifully at my husband’s side the entire way. The support the community provides while training these dogs is remarkable.”
It cost approximately $40,000 to raise and train each dog for Leader Dogs. These dogs are provided to clients at no cost and without any government subsidies.
When Vicki Salinger’s daughter was in the 10th grade, one of her school projects was a report about how to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs.
“She read everything she could find about Leader Dog puppies and recorded data about our puppy’s progress,” recalls Salinger of Southfield. “That was the beginning. Two years later, we raised another puppy and then three more. We ended up keeping one of the puppies, Darwin, who didn’t qualify for the program.”
PAWS With A Cause
Headquartered in Wayland, with an administrative office in Troy, PAWS With a Cause trains assistant dogs, such as seizure response dogs, service dogs for individuals 14 years or older, and hearing dogs for individuals 18 years or older. PAWS also trains service dogs for children, ages 4-12, with autism.
“Our hearing dogs let a client know when the phone rings or when a baby cries,” says Deb David, community outreach manager. “Service dogs may pull a lightweight manual wheel chair or turn on lights. Seizure response dogs respond to a client’s seizure by getting help or providing stimulation. We do not train dogs to predict seizures.”
The seizure assistance dogs are also trained in behavior disruption for which parents have commands to send the dog to interact with the child who’s having behavioral issues or loss of balance from medications. It takes about $30,000 to cover the costs of breeding and training for the dogs, which are given to clients at no cost.
4 Paws For Ability
Located in Xenia, Ohio, 4 Paws for Ability provides trained service dogs for children with disabilities and veterans who have lost the use of their limbs or hearing while in active combat. Service dogs include autism assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) assistance dogs and multipurpose assistance dogs.
“Parents of children with seizures use the seizure assistance dog to help keep their child safe,” says Kelly Camn, development director of 4Paws. Camn says the program is also having some success in training dogs who work with children who have frequent seizures to pre-alert just before a seizure takes place.
Arlene Gorelick, MPH, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, warns families to be cautious about claims that dogs can be trained to detect a seizure before it happens.
“There has never been a clinical trial demonstrating the possibility, which makes me wary of any claims or programs that offer to train or provide seizure-predicting service animals,” Gorelick says.
“Many families swear by their seizure-response dogs that assist people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders by activating a life-alert system, finding help, retrieving a phone or stimulating a person during a seizure,” she says. “And there are devices on the market that can identify when a person is having a seizure and call for help. The SmartWatch, for example, is a wristwatch-like monitor that detects shaking motion and sends a warning signal to family members if the client has a seizure in his sleep.”
Service dogs custom trained to meet the special needs of their owners have a huge impact on their owners’ lives. Helping their owners meet the daily challenges of life with a disability provides greater mobility, independence and personal safety.
Therapy dogs are also trained to help people, but their jobs are very different from service dogs. These dogs provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals and are trained with their handlers, who are usually their owners.
Therapy dogs are trained to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with them. They visit hospitals schools, hospices, nursing homes and similar places. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with people while on duty.
Therapy dogs must meet the standards set by a national organization in order to be certified. They do not, however, have the same jobs or legal designation as service dogs and the owners of these dogs don’t have the same rights to be accompanied by these dogs in places where pets are not permitted.
Ingrid Grossberg of West Bloomfield, a clinical social worker, has frequently taken her certified therapy dog, Midge, a grand champion Portuguese water dog, to Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital to visit patients.
“Henry Ford requires that your dog be trained and then certified by a national organization before you can work as
a therapy team,” Grossberg says. “We were certified by the national organization, Alliance of Therapy Dogs. I applied to be a volunteer and met with Henry Ford Hospital’s head of the dog therapy program who again evaluated us and gave his approval. Midge and I had to get all our vaccinations updated before we were allowed to visit anyone. It’s always a fun, rewarding and heartwarming experience for the two of us and the patients and staff.” *
Guide Dog Access Legislation
Michigan statutory law guarantees a blind person the legal right to be accompanied by a dog guide in harness in all public accommodations and educational institutions and on all public conveyances. Any person who interferes is guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable under Michigan law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees the right of a person with a qualifying disability to be accompanied by their individually trained assistance animal in public locations. The Fair Housing Act allows for trained assistance animals in apartments or other no-pet housing at no additional cost to the person with a disability.
— Ruthan Brodsky | Contributing Writer