“I have polio, and I have a major case, a major zapping of polio. So at this point I have very very little movement.”
For Lee Ann Laraway, polio has made almost everything in life just out of reach.
But what her hands can't retrieve, her assistant can. Meet Jeannie, a three-year-old Labrador, who has become Lee Ann's arms and legs.
"She is playful, she is loveable, she is slightly brilliant," Laraway said.
Jeannie understands no fewer than 72 commands. To get a feel for what that means, Lee Ann takes us on a shopping trip in San Jose. First stop: The bank, where the dog got cash from the teller. From the bank, it's on to the drug store, where Jeannie got a candy bar for Lee Ann. Then Jeannie helped pay the cashier, and got change back.
“I have full feeling all over my body, but I have very little movement, so anything the dog does for me has to be targeted in my lap and set it down in my lap," says Lee Ann.
"When you have a really good working animal, they come and interact with you all the time," Lee Ann said.
While there's no argument that Jeannie is an extraordinary animal, she wasn't born that way. She was tutored and trained here at a facility that's become the final legacy of one of the Bay Area's most beloved figures.
Canine Companions for Independence is a sprawling, state of the art facility that sits on twelve acres of land in Santa Rosa donated by late Peanuts cartoonist Charles Shultz. Here, handlers work with specially selected labs and goldens for hours a day -- but not every dog will make the cut.
"We train four different types of dogs here," said Ken Kirsh. "Hearing dogs, service dogs, skilled companion dogs, and facility dogs."
The work is serious business. In the case of hearing dogs, the animals alert their disabled owners to everything from ringing telephones to doorbells to stove timers.
"When you think of all the things you have in your hands throughout the day, if you don't physically have the ability to pick that up just think about how that would change your life," says Ken.
Others dogs will work with patients with severely disabled patients like eight-year-old Noah Habib of Mountain View who communicates with a special computer. “I like it when new people come up to ask me about my dog," he says. "People are really interested in the dog and will come over and ask to pet her and ask to play with her, and ask about what she does, and these are people that normally might not approach us and want to talk to Noah," says his Dad.
And back in San Jose Lee Ann is arriving home with Jeannie and her groceries. With just one chore left -- opening her own door.
"You can train a dog to do a lot of things," said Lee Ann. "You cannot give them the heart to do the job, and that is what a good working dog has."
For more information, see the websites below:
For more information on Canine Companions for Independence, see the organization’s website at http://www. caninecom panions.org/
To learn more about polio around the world, see the collection of links at
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ medlineplus/ polioandpostpo liosyndrome.html
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