Meet three dogs who offer more than companionship--they save lives
Toby, a 2-year-old golden retriever, made news last March when he apparently saved his owner, Debbie Parkhurst, 46, of Cecil County, Maryland, by giving her the Heimlich maneuver after she choked on a piece of apple. Parkhurst had tried unsuccessfully to dislodge it herself by beating on her chest. Noticing her distress, Toby pushed her to the ground and jumped on her chest until the obstruction popped out. Although Toby is an extreme example, it seems that dogs may not only be mankind’s best friend—they also can be helpful physicians. Here are
a few of the “doctors” at work.
Margie trots the halls of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, head up, tail high, with no doubt that she’s all that. After all, patients must sign up in advance just to get an audience with the 14-year-old Boston terrier–French bulldog mix. But with each appointment, Margie loses the attitude and gets down to serious business: snuggling and inspiring breast cancer patients and their families.
Breast cancer is something Margie knows well. When she was adopted from a rescue organization five years ago by Jennifer Gendron, Jennifer felt lumps on Margie’s chest. A vet diagnosed breast cancer and performed a mastectomy. The amazing pup was back on her feet in two days, with no lasting effects.
Jennifer, 30, owner of a Beverly Hills massage spa, wanted to do some kind of volunteering. When she heard she could volunteer with Margie at Cedars-Sinai Health System’s POOCH Program (Pets Offer Ongoing Care and Healing; csmc.edu), she signed up.
Every other Wednesday, Jennifer and Margie go to the hospital to check the list of patients who would like to see them. “I wasn’t going to continue doing this if Margie didn’t like it—she’s endured enough in her life. But the minute we get out of the car, she gets pep in her step,” says Jennifer.
The patients can be in pain, so Jennifer positions Margie, who always cooperates, carefully on their laps. Unlike with human visitors, patients or their loved ones don’t have to make conversation with a dog or try to put on a brave front. They can just bury their face in the scruff of Margie’s neck and feel a moment’s release.
One patient had seen her mastectomy scar for the first time right before Jennifer and Margie arrived. Jennifer recalls, “We walked in and I could see she was traumatized. We showed her Margie’s scars and she started crying. Later, she asked for photos of Margie. She said she’d been having the worst day of her life, but Margie brought her out of it. She wanted something to remind her of Margie’s spirit when she was down.”
On a morning in 2004 like any other, Rebecca Frock, 38, of Albuquerque, was in the shower, getting ready for the day. The next thing she knew, she was on the floor being held by her husband, Tom, after having had yet another epileptic seizure. This time, she was lucky to be alive. When the seizure came on, she had dropped unconscious into the tub, covering the water drain.Luckily, Tom heard the disturbance and got her out.
Unfortunately, that incident wasn’t unusual. Rebecca was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 10. With no warning, she would have seizures that caused muscle jerks, temporarily suspended breathing, and loss of consciousness for a few minutes. Afterward, she would be confused and exhausted. Despite being told by medical experts that she would never hold a steady job, have children or live a normal life, she is married to Tom, is the mother of two boys aged 4 and 6, and is employed as director of psychiatric care management at a local psychiatric facility.
But Rebecca wanted something more. Although she was on seizure medications, they were not
foolproof. She would still have seizures—sometimes three a week, sometimes not for months.
In 2005, Rebecca decided enough was enough. “I wanted something that would keep me safe, give me more independence and let my boys grow up without having to ‘mother’ me,” she says.
She found out about the Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation (greatplainsdogs.com) in Jud, North Dakota, where dogs are trained to stay by their owners and keep them safe in the event of a seizure.
In July 2006, Rebecca went to North Dakota for three weeks of training with Taz, a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever.
Today, Taz accompanies Rebecca everywhere. So far, she’s had only three seizures since she brought him home in September of 2006, because something remarkable has happened. Although he was not trained for this, Taz seems to sense when Rebecca is about to have a seizure. When he picks up the cue, he will bother and disobey Rebecca until she takes a pill. This may happen as often as three times a day.
“If I took my medication when a seizure wasn’t actually coming on, I would experience terrible side effects. But every time Taz has alerted me, this hasn’t happened, which means he has been right 100 percent of the time,” Rebecca reports proudly.
"Best of all, Taz has freed my family from the constant fear for my safety and has allowed my children to just be kids again. The other day, my older son said to me, ‘Mommy, I am going to let Taz take care of you now.’”
Thirteen years ago,Janice Justice, 53, of Portland, Oregon, had the world on a string: a great career teaching chiropractic medicine and an active social life.
That changed overnight when an adverse reaction to a combination
of medicines destroyed Janice’s cochlear hair cells, causing her to
go completely deaf. "It was a tremendous shock to be suddenly cut out of communication. I became very withdrawn and, at the same time, dependent on others to make decisions for me," Janice recalls.
She took leave from her job, moved into a friend’s basement apartment and hid from the world.
Trying to adapt, Janice enrolled in sign language and lip reading classes and attended deaf education workshops. "Still, it was a dark and lonely few years," she says.
At one workshop, she found out about Dogs for the Deaf (dogsforthedeaf.org) in Central Point, Oregon, an organization that provides "hearing" dogs.
In 1996, Cajun entered her life. Part German shorthair pointer and part unknown breed, Cajun had been rescued from a shelter and trained for eight months.
Cajun performs all common sound alerts: door knock, phone ring, someone calling her name. He also reacts to any sound he thinks Janice should know about, like dropped keys or a truck backing up.
The change in Janice’s life was immediate. She moved back into her house and began to go out again. With the addition of a cochlear implant that gives her some hearing, she was able to return to teaching. "Cajun has led me back into life," she says.
Cajun, now 12, is approaching retirement age and is losing his eyesight. But Janice plans to stand by her buddy. She says, "As we grow older together, he continues to be my ears and I will be his eyes."
ETA: Dear LORD! I realized that instead of impresed for my mood I selected horny! Yipes! LOL