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Portrait of a Hero - Carol

It has been a pleasure getting to know Carol, from If By Yes. She is a Veterinary Technician and Former Service Dog Trainer. This edition of 'Portrait of a Hero' has 3 hero's in it.  First Carol and her love of animals and ability to train these dogs, then the dogs she trained and their love for their owners, and then the owners themselves for their courage and desire for a better life.

She "used to train service dogs for people with disabilities. She trained wheelchair-pulling dogs, bracing dogs and hearing dogs, and placed them with clients. These inspiring individuals found new levels of independence with their canine companions.

In my time as a service dog trainer, I met all kinds of people. I met people who were born with a disability. I met people who had degenerative diseases and were losing their independence slowly over time. Others had suffered a tragic accident and their entire lives had changed in a heartbeat. Like any other group of people, these individuals varied widely. Some were old, others were young. Some were friendly and some were reticent. Some were kind, others were rude.

There was one thing that they all had in common: the drive to be independent and the desire to feel like everyone else.

Nobody likes having to ask for help when a poorly placed potted plant blocks the automatic door button. No one wants to sit in a cold parking lot waiting for a helpful stranger to pick up their car keys from the icy ground. It is humbling to need help to get up a ramp that is too long and too steep. It is frustrating when people avoid eye contact with you, because they don't know what to say. It is humiliating to be treated like a child just because you happen to be sitting down.

When they received their service dogs, all of that changed forever.

My job was to train dogs to retrieve objects from the floor, or a table, or the fridge. I taught them to open and close doors, and to turn lights on and off. They learned to press the automatic door button at the mall, and to deliver a credit card to a cashier at the corner store. They learned to brace for a person trying to stand up after a fall, or transferring from a chair to a toilet or bed. I even trained them to pull a manual wheelchair up a hill.
But the dogs did more, so much more, than I could ever teach.

Suddenly a paraplegic can transfer in and out of bed without a helper, and her dog brings her clothes in the morning and pulls off her socks for her at night. The woman with the degenerative disease can go on walks alone again, because she knows that if she falls, her dog will help her get back up again. The young man in the manual wheelchair can outrun all of his friends as his dog pulls him down the street faster than anyone else, even outstripping someone buzzing along in a power wheelchair.

When these people hear someone say "Do you want me to get that door/dropped item for you?" or "would you like a push up that ramp?" because they can reply, "No, thank you, my dog will do it."

It's more, too, than just added independence. I have heard it again and again from people after they got a dog:

When you have a service dog, your disability becomes invisible. All people see is you and your clever dog. Everywhere you go people stop you to ask you questions. Children constantly ask if they can pet your dog. You become a local celebrity - your neighbourhood is filled with familiar faces and people call out to you from across the street. Everyone wants to be your friend, because they are so amazed by what you can get your dog to do for you. People who were shy or who felt shut-in before they got their dog found their entire life turned around by the positivity and friendliness they received from everyone they met.

A dog opens doors for you in more ways than any aid ever could.

If you or someone you know is interested in a service dog, check out http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/ for a service dog charity near you!"

Thank you Carol for sharing your inspiring story with us. 

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