Fourteen-year-old Patrick Maresh’s life has changed for the better when his service dog, Mary Lou stepped into it. Patrick and the 2-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix have been constant companions since he received her as a canine assistant in July.
Patrick is nonverbal, has sensory issues and low muscle tone which meant he struggled to get around safely. Before Mary Lou’s arrival, Patrick was so afraid of being bumped into and knocked over, his mother, Jan Maresh, said. He would flatten himself against the lockers and not move out of fear. A specialist informed Jan Maresh that Patrick seemed to have an affinity with dogs and would benefit from having a service dog.
It took over four years of being on the waiting list before Patrick was able to have a service dog. Service dogs require a lot of training and, depending on their specialisation, are worth in excess of $25,000. After filling out a questionnaire, writing essays, gathering letters of recommendation and producing a DVD of Patrick’s developmental history, the Maresh family submitted an application to Canine Assistants, a Georgi0based organization that provides service dogs, in 2006. Soon after, they were notified that Patrick was on the list to become a recipient.
Whilst on the waiting list, the Maresh family took it upon themselves to dog-sit as many dogs as possible when friends and neighbours went on vacation. As they had never had a pet before, this was their opportunity to learn about dog care and to prepare themselves for the long-term commitment of having a dog. Service dogs in particular need a lot of attention paid to them for Canine Assistants to be satisfied the dog is being looked after well.
“They (Canine Assistants) take it very seriously. These dogs are a huge investment on their part,” Maresh said. Maresh said recipients enter a contract with the organization spelling out their responsibilities. For instance, recipients must weigh the dogs four times a year and submit the information to Canine Assistants. If they allow the dogs to become obese and fail to take action to solve the problem, the organization reserves the right to take the dogs back.
“Technically, this dog is on permanent loan,” Maresh said. “It’s a full commitment and it’s not something to take lightly.”
How Mary Lou chose Patrick
Finally, in July 2010 the Maresh family headed for the two-week training camp in Georgia, where Patrick would meet his canine companion. During the first two days, recipients are introduced to dogs that trainers have selected as potential matches for the individuals.
“The dogs really pick the recipients,” Maresh said. “The dogs can sense by your energy what your need is.” The dogs typically make their selection by putting their paws on a recipient’s lap and seemingly looking into their eyes, she said.
It took five dogs before one that seemed a perfect match was found. Once the selection is made, recipients work with the dogs and their trainers in the afternoons while attending lectures on dog management in the mornings. By the second week, they go on public outings with the dogs. The family are then required to take a final written exam before they graduate. The Maresh family passed successfully and Mary Lou came home with them.
Man’s best friend
The dog accompanies him to his special needs classroom at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, where she lies by him as he works and walks with him as he passes through the halls. Now he is able to walk down the halls confidently with Mary Lou by his side.
Patrick now goes with his family to watch his sisters participate in high school sporting events and cheerleading competitions. Previously, he wouldn’t enter the gym because of the sensory overload. “He’s able to tolerate a lot more,” his mother said. “Now he walks right. She’s at his side. We sit in the bleachers with everybody else.”
Maresh can’t explain it, but Mary Lou makes Patrick calmer. “He’ll pet her. He’ll interact with her. Then he can focus back on wherever we are,” she said.
Mary Lou has brought Patrick positive attention, his mother said, “He walks the dog and people say hello to him. It’s like his parade.” Maresh said Patrick enjoys the attention. Although Patrick always has been sociable, sometimes people would avert their eyes and not reciprocate, she said. “It’s almost like she brought people to him,” she said. “If you have a dog, everybody says hello. It’s just amazing.”
Maresh said Mary Lou will remain Patrick’s canine assistant during her working life of nine to 10 years. When a dog ages, the recipient has the option of applying for another service dog and keeping the older dog as a pet.
For information on Canine Assistants, visit its website at canineassistants.org.
Jeff Blazer’s seeing-eye dog was found over the weekend after fleeing their accommodation in Kissimmee. Just before the storms last week, the seeing-eye dog, Devon, became distressed and ran from the rental home Blazer and Devon were staying in whilst Blazer attending a convention for work in Kissimmee.
Due to the amount of time and care put into training seeing-eye dogs, all seeing-eye dogs are estimated to be worth around $40,000 each, claims Kelli Parker of Division of Blind Services.
Jeff Blazer was born blind, and for the last 8 years, his constant companion has been Devon. ”He goes everywhere with me. He travels on airplanes, and trains, and cabs. Wherever I am, he is,” he said. It would appear that, due to being in unfamiliar territory, Devon spooked, ran and could not find his way home.
Found safe and well, Devon and Blazer have thankfully been reunited.
Community donations of more than $8,649 have made it possible for a 2-year-old boy with a rare movement disorder to get the service dog he needed.
Wesley Logston, from Washington, has been diagnosed with Dystonia, a rare movement disorder that causes his muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. Symptoms of the incurable chronic disorder surfaced in May when the left side of Wesley’s face sagged intermittently, he dragged his left side, bumped into things, and choked while drinking. Wesley often has what looks to be seizure-like episodes, as if Wesley has a Charley horse of the entire body, as described by his family.
Wesley, who has been flown to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma twice in recent months, had stopped breathing on one occasion and had to be resuscitated. At this point Wesley’s parents, Breanna and Steven, were told their son needed a service dog. The service dog would need to be trained to detect low blood-sugar levels and how to alert someone if Wesley stopped breathing or had one of his seizure-like episodes. This training could potentially save his life.
The Logston family thought they had found their service dog that had already been trained to detect low blood-sugar levels and alert someone if their owner stopped breathing. The additional training needed would cost around $4,000 to get their potential service dog Kinja up to the standards needed to be able to be of maximum benefit to Wesley. These funds were raised but unfortunately the dog was given to another family with a child who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Although disappointed, Wesley’s family bought another dog, a puppy they have named Sam. Sam comes from a line of service dogs so they are sure Sam will learn her duties quickly. Now that they have not received the previously trained service dog, Sam’s training will be on-going for over two years and the fees could be in excess $30,000 for the vet care, kennel board and $40 per hour training sessions, according to Bellingham-based Brigadoon Youth & Service Dog Programs.
“The family has been so buoyed by the outpouring of caring. I wish I could convey how much of a comfort it is to feel so supported during such a heart-rending time,” said Celeste Mergens, a Lynden resident and the boy’s grandmother.
Breanna Logston, Wesley’s mother, said the family were surprised at the amount of money that has been raised so far, and are thankful for the community’s ongoing support and donations.
HOW TO HELP
Donations can be sent to Sterling Savings Bank in Lynden for the Miracle for Wesley fund. The mailing address is 1794 Front St., Lynden, WA 98264.
The money will be used to train and care for Sam, the service dog who will help Wesley Logston, a 2-year-old Lynden boy diagnosed with a rare movement disorder called dystonia.
More information on this story can be found here.
Picture credit as above.