Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Man's Best Friend, Indeed

Today we welcomed Bill and Olia Palmer and their amazing service dog, Coby, who introduced us to the many ways in which service dogs can help us. Olia and Bill met Coby, a yellow lab, six years ago as he was beginning his service dog training, and he joined their household about 6 months later. Bill has type 1 diabetes, and Coby is able to smell and alert Bill when his blood sugar is getting low. Coby has come to the rescue many times since partnering with Bill, and Bill has not had a low blood sugar seizure since Coby's arrival. Dogs are so fitting for service roles like these because their sense of smell is about 20,000 times better than that of humans, and they can be trained to tell us when they smell a particular scent. Believe it or not, the only other animals that are allowed to be official service animals are miniature horses, who are also excellent with training and can provide a great deal of support to people with specific disabilities.

Service dogs can work in many capacities, but are always trained to help one individual person with his or her specific disability. The different categories of service dogs include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, mobility dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, panic assistance dogs, autism support dogs, and allergen sniffing dogs. For Coby's training, Bill sent the trainers a shirt he had been wearing when his blood sugar was low--the trainers then snipped the shirt up into small pieces and used these as targets, rewarding Coby when he identified these particular scraps. This trained Coby to recognize Bill's scent along with a particular smell associated with his low blood sugar, and alert Bill and Olia whenever he identifies that smell.

Bill and Olia take excellent care of Coby, the very deserving life saver. They make sure he gets enough exercise, take him for frequent check-ups, and make sure all his needs are met when they travel. Coby goes with Bill everywhere, including the grocery store, church, restaurants, and vacations. They carry Coby's training and health documents with them, as well as ADA documents in case they are questioned by business owners. As a general rule when encountering service dogs, do not approach the dog and expect to be able to pet them, it is important to realize that they have a job to do.

Olia ended the presentation with a recommendation for all of us: even if you don't need a service dog, having a pet can be so beneficial, both emotionally and health-wise. Many thanks to Bill, Olia, and Coby for such an insightful and inspiring experience this morning.

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