June 08, 2003
Morning Journal Correspondent
New London Township
Multiple sclerosis has made movement difficult for Kathy Henricks, so
she sought out a friend to help her. The result is Cagney, a golden retriever,
who does such things as load and unload the washing machine, turns lights
on and off and retrieves pop from the refrigerator.
He presses the up or down elevator button and will fetch blankets and shoes from other rooms when told. Cagney brings the laundry basket from the dryer after filling it. He opens the refrigerator door by pulling on a strap and can take out a can of pop without touching other food.
Cagney wears a harness with a T-shaped handle attached perpendicularly so Henricks can steady herself while walking. The harness also has a hoop that Henricks holds onto while in her wheelchair. At the mall, Henricks grabs the handle and off she and Cagney go to enjoy their shopping.
''He's the only guy I know who likes to shop,'' joked Henricks' husband John.
''Cagney's happiest when he's working,'' said Henricks, 44. The 2 1/2-year-old purebred knows not to accept food from strangers or eat food dropped on the floor, even prime rib, unless given permission. Cagney can accompany the Henrickses to a busy restaurant such as Home Town Buffet and walk past the food counters as if ''I'd love to have some, but I know I can't,'' Henricks said.
Others should not pet service dogs when the owner has their hand on the dog's harness or leash, because the animal is in ''working mode,'' she said.
''It distracts the dog from paying attention to me. If I should start to fall, he needs to pay attention directly to me,'' she explained.
The law permits Cagney to accompany Henricks anywhere with the exception of surgery or isolation area because of illness. Cagney has been with Henricks during MRI tests and many other medical visits and sat with Henricks in airplane passenger seats. Next month, he will attend the Miss Ohio Pageant where Henricks' daughter, Kim Baker, will compete as Miss Mansfield.
On his collar is a booklet explaining the law allowing Cagney's accessibility. If need be, Henricks can show proprietors the booklet and ask them to call the police if they press the issue.
''I never had to do that and I don't want to do that,'' she said.
''Most people are just curious,'' Henricks said, adding that the usual 15-minute errand may take an hour because of chatting with the many people asking questions about Cagney.
In her late 20s, Henricks starting tripping often and lost her eyesight to the point of being legally blind. After seeing five doctors, some of who said she was making up or exaggerating her symptoms, a neurologist diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis, a disease that can affect anything from head to toe.
''The protective coatings on the nerves wear away and causes nerve destruction,'' according to her husband.
She regained most of her eyesight after three months of medication.
Once she fell and dislocated her kneecap at their Fayette Road farm, three miles outside New London. She was down for two and a half hours, unable to get up.
Now when she falls, Henricks can ask Cagney to bring the phone or she can grab Cagney's hip and neck area while he braces himself and she pulls herself up. He also braces himself at each step in a flight of stairs.
''He goes into a brace and I lean on him, one step at a time,'' she said.
Cagney began his New Life Mobility Assistance Dog training by learning regular puppy skills like housebreaking while living with a North Carolina foster family for a year. The golden retrievers, Labradors, German and Australian shepherds and mixed breed puppies donated by animal shelters and breeders then move into assistance dog training, learning 48 to 60 commands. Training time varies with the dog.
After being on a waiting list for a year and a half, Henricks traveled to North Carolina a year ago to meet Cagney. During their two and a half weeks of training together, they had to pass several tests before ''graduation.'' Two tests were at Winston-Salem's china and crystal shops, filled with shoppers, where Henricks had to maneuver the wheelchair with Cagney.
Henricks first wrote to New Life because she wanted a dog to help her with everyday activities and lessen the pain in her legs. Doctors don't know why, but pressure on the legs alleviates pain, she said.
''When my legs start hurting really bad, I want weight on my legs. I'll be sitting on the floor and have him sit on my legs. It eases the throbbing,'' she said.
Cagney can also pick up a quarter despite his four-inch wide muzzle and give cashiers a coin purse from which to take payment and return it to Henricks.
Henricks and Cagney give 20-minute programs to groups and have visited Veterans of Foreign War posts, American Legions, women's groups, nursing homes, Chambers of Commerce, Rotary and day cares in Ashland, New London and Norwalk.
Before her illness, Henricks gave horseback riding lessons and still has horses. In addition to shopping, Henricks and Cagney enjoy fishing.
''Cagney's the fish inspector,'' John Henricks said.
Henricks said with Cagney she is never alone and once placed with her, he is hers for life.
''He will be with me forever. He never goes to anyone else. I guess the only time he would, would be if I should die, it would be my husband's choice to donate him to somebody else,'' Henricks said.
New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs is a nonprofit group supplying trained dogs to the disabled. The cost to train, feed, provide vet care and supplies for an assistance dog is $10,000. The Henricks were required to donate a minimum of $2,000 to New Life; donors to the organization gave the remaining $8,000 and there is no insurance contribution.
Donations can be mailed to Kathy Henricks, 6287 Fayette Road, New London,
Ohio 44581 or New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs, Inc. PO Box 659, Moravian
Falls, NC 28654
Copyright © The Morning Journal 2003