Dogs are stabilizing presence for victims with multiple sclerosis
Thursday, February 20, 2003 - 8:00:17 PM PST
By Rodney Tanaka , Staff Writer
Jan Parent walked through the mall with tears in her eyes and freedom in hand in the form of a dog named Poindexter.
Parent, 45, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year and a half ago. She has relied on family and friends because she needs someone by her side at all times in case she loses her balance.
But with the help of Baldwin Park- based K-9 Behavior Services, which trains assistance dogs, Parent will only have to call on Poindexter, a 2-year-old German shepherd and collie mix nicknamed Dexter.
"It makes me feel like I can have my own life again,' Parent said.
She first started working with Dexter two months ago, but she walked with him alone for the first time this week. Dexter has been training for six months, and if all goes well Parent will take him home next month.
They walked through Westfield Shoppingtown West Covina to get used to crowds and unexpected surprises, K-9 Behavior Services trainer Sarah Prelle said.
Assistance dogs, which are trained to help people diagnosed with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis and other health conditions, must be psychologically stable not too shy or too aggressive, Prelle said.
But they also must have the "working drive,' which Dexter has.
"He's mellow but he's willing to do the work,' Prelle said.
Dexter used to walk ahead of Parent, but has learned to stay beside her so she can grasp a harness around his body, Prelle said.
Parent started talking to K-9 Behavior Services about seven months ago. She is paying $5,000 for Dexter's training, medical clearance, kenneling and equipment. Other services would cost much more and take much longer to match her with a dog, Parent said.
K-9 Behavior Services owner Jeremy Talamantes, who grew up in Covina, has started a nonprofit organization to provide assistance dogs to those who can't afford them.
K-9 Assistance Services Inc., the nonprofit corporation, will hold its first Dog Hike Fund-raiser Saturday at Monrovia Canyon Park.
"We're trying to get these dogs in the hands of those who can't afford to purchase them,' Talamantes said.
They are asking people and corporations for donations, but have committed to placing three dogs this year regardless of how much they raise.
The projected cost of kenneling, training and medical expenses is about $8,000 per dog, Talamantes said.
Dogs can work for five to 10 years on average, he said.
Parent said the births of her children and grandchildren are the only moments to compare in excitement to Dexter's entrance into her life.
When Parent stopped walking, Dexter leaned into her to give her added support. When she sat, he put his head down and rested at her feet.
If she drops her purse she can't bend down for fear of passing out, Parent said. Dexter is trained to pick things up and bring them to her. If she falls, he will find a designated person and get that person to help her.
Too many people or too much movement confuses her, so she used to avoid malls. But she plans to visit more malls and the beach with Dexter.
"You feel like you're lost,' Parent said. "Having him takes away the
© 2003 Whittier Daily News