All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for March 2003

Training man's best friend

Mar 8, 2003
Akron Beacon Journal

Brenda Mosley uses the phrase, "It's God calling."

Those three little words explain why she was stricken with multiple sclerosis on top of cerebral palsy. Why she is surrounded by beautiful dogs. Why she is breathing this very moment.

"God made me a sick person because I have the compassion and understanding to help other people with disabilities," she said, slipping on the oxygen occasionally while chatting in her Canton home.

Mosley, 40, was born with cerebral palsy. "Cerebral palsy doesn't change. You just get more tired as the years go on," she said.

Multiple sclerosis struck in 1997 and the clouds grew darker.

"I couldn't feed myself or hold my head up," she said. The disease takes control, then eases into remissions. "Yes, it was bad luck, but it was good luck in that I can understand anyone with multiple sclerosis, how their life has changed so dramatically and quickly. That's what makes my program successful."

Her program, Canines Helping Independent People, is a federal 501(c)3 nonprofit agency that pairs disabled people with dogs she has trained to meet their individual needs. Mosley founded the agency six years ago and has since filled the lives of 25 people with the physical support and unconditional love of a golden retriever or Labrador and in a few cases, other breeds.

Judy Kaforey of Green got Sadie, a yellow Lab trained by Mosley, a year ago. She has spinal stenosis and a connective tissue disorder. "The Lord has blessed me. I can still walk," she said. Sadie, however, lightens the load, helping her undress, picking up objects, steadying her gait and fetching the phone. "Sadie loves to work. She's my service dog and has become my husband's pet." A matter of training

Any dog can become a service dog. Mosley prefers golden retrievers and Labs because they love to fetch, are well-liked in the community, pass muster with insurance companies and are small enough to fit under restaurant tables and ride on airplanes.

Service dogs make life more livable for 25,000 Americans, according to the Delta Society, which studies the human-animal bond and educates health care professionals about service dogs. Working dogs includes guide dogs, hearing-alert dogs, seizure dogs, mobility dogs, medical-alert dogs and emotional-support dogs.

The gentle creatures can transform the life of a disabled person, sometimes making it possible for them to return to work as well as live independently. They buoy the spirits of introverted people, as Mosley once was, and they become more outgoing. They are economical, costing $1.60 a day compared to $8 an hour for a personal care attendant, she says.

Moreover, the dogs can perform similar tasks, helping a person out of the tub, off the floor or up from a chair. The dog can fetch the keys, the telephone, get a can of pop out of the fridge, carry sacks, stabilize a wobbly walk, pull a wheelchair, and lend a world of confidence to someone whose daily life rides rough.

The charmer at Mosley's side is Toby Griffin, an extra-red retriever who possesses a mysterious gift. He has saved her life not once, not twice, but many dozens of times by startling her when apnea sets in and she fails to breathe. This is something that cannot be taught. It is a gift of instinct not unlike those rare dogs who can predict when their owners are about to have a seizure. Science can't explain it. It must be a God thing.

Toby is a touchy-feely retriever who gazes in your eyes and bestows unsolicited kisses, always ready to put a friendly paw on the complexion of a day. He lived in an outdoor kennel for four years before they found each other and in 2001 became her third service dog.

"Toby was frightened of everything," she says. The list began with men. But the sweet dog healed a little bit every day. Then he became her hero.

"I would lie down and try to go to sleep and he'd put his paw on me and breathe on me," she said. Sometimes he would sleep with her and other times he'd insist, as much as a dog can, that she get up. Those were times when she had stopped breathing.

"A true test came three weeks ago," she said. "He woke me abrasively" and stood on the bed until she realized her oxygen mask had fallen off.

"It gives me goose bumps to think about it." Called to train

She has been training dogs for a dozen years, five of them as a volunteer for Assistance Dogs of America. In 1997, she started Canines Helping Independent People while also helping Goodwill launch its own service dog program. "I was stricter and wanted my program to run with more consideration of a person's disability and needs," she said.

That same year, she and her second dog, Farley, a Delta Service Dog of the Year, was awarded the Beyond Limits Award for Mobility Work by the Delta Society. In 2001, Delta honored her with a 15-year achievement award. She has also been recognized by her alma mater, Malone College.

That's pretty impressive for a woman who wasn't expected to live to age 40.

It's hard to imagine she was afraid of dogs before Assistance Dogs sent her Chip, her first service dog, after a nasty bout of cerebral palsy and the sudden death of both her parents six months apart. Like a trusty white steed in shining armor, this beautiful golden retrievercame galloping into her life, preventing a dreaded move into an assisted-living facility.

Then he died of a brain tumor. They had been together for only three months.

She was torn and empty-hearted when her second golden retriever, Farley, came tolive with her, but he soon climbed in and warmed her up from the inside out. She made him her guinea pig and taught him to do the laundry, unloading the washer and loading the dryer. Sunshine parted the dark clouds.

"Had Farley not come into my life, I would have literally not survived," she said. "He gave me the unconditional love that kept me going. Farley was like Toby. He touched my heart."

Copyright ©2003 Akron Beacon Journal