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Man's Best Friend

Blanche is on the left and Carolina is on the right

By Sarah Matincheck

Many people have heard the saying “a dog is a man’s best friend”. But did you know that there are different types of service dogs that are trained to assist people with different needs? I read online that autism service dogs help their owners with tasks to help them live independently and navigate the world. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help their owners gain confidence.

 

There are two service dogs I am around at work named Blanche and Carolina. They come to visit our residents at The Middletown Home. From what I can see, Blanche and Carolina really have a way of bringing comfort to residents, and in many cases, easing anxiety. I interviewed their owners, Paige and Joel so that I could learn more. It is so interesting to me that I wanted to share what I learned with all of you. 

  • Can you tell me about a time that you were proud of the impact your pet made in someone else’s day?

 

Joel: I remember an evening when Blanche and I were attending an event for Susquehanna Service Dogs. There were people of all ages and lifestyles in attendance. As I waited to get a bite to eat, a young boy about 9-10 years old asked if he could pet Blanche. I said Yes. What happened next literally brought tears to my eyes. For 15 minutes this young boy clung to Blanche as if she was his only friend in life! Blanche melted in his lap and the two of them were better than any medicine.

  • In what ways do you feel a service animal might be able to help to enhance someone’s life skills?

 

Joel: Adding confidence is critical. Many people are gifted in many ways but struggle in public or in crowds. Service animals go where you go, do the things that you do, and add confidence.

 

Paige: Building people’s confidence and how they live a full and normal life

  • Many people on the spectrum struggle with anxiety – Can you give an example of how a service animal might help ease anxiety?

 

Joel: I have seen both children and adults benefit from having a “job”. When people have the job of taking care of their service dog the level of anxiety often decreases. Service dogs do not judge your anxiety; they help encourage you through the day.

  • How much training did it take for Carolina/Blanche to become a service dog? 

 

Joel: For Blanche, she spent about 18 months in a puppy-raiser home learning good house manners, basic obedience, and learning how to interact with new people and new circumstances. From there, she attended an 8-month intense training at Susquehanna Service Dogs Training Center. Here, professional trainers trained Blanche to carry items, ‘squish’ someone’s legs if they need help calming down, and so much more! The total time to complete her training was about 2 years. Then she was placed as a working service dog. 

 

Paige: For Carolina, about 2 ½ years training. 

 

  • Could Blanche/Carolina be able to sense someone in distress and if so how would they react? 

Joel: Blanche has been trained to look for a physical distress signal. It could be someone scratching their arm over and over again, or it could be a jerking motion that she sees as a sign that someone is in distress. As I work with Blanche more and more, I do see that at times she will ‘break the rules’ by pulling toward someone in public and I come to find out that this person was actually having a bad day emotionally, physically, or even mentally. Her reaction is usually to bump the person gently with her head or even lean on the leg of someone and look in their face. 

 

Paige: Their instinct is to comfort, nuzzle and give kisses. 

 

  • Is there anything special those of us on the spectrum should know about service dogs that we haven’t already talked about today? 

 

Joel: Each person on the spectrum is unique with their needs. Service dogs can be professionally trained to do amazing things for people. Finding out exactly what a person’s needs are, and finding the right dog for you, can change a person’s life for the better!

 

Paige: Remember to always ask permission to pet a service animal. Service animals work hard and they play hard!