Physical needs are what Mobility Assist Dogs are trained to support. When a dog also ends up offering mental support, the outcome is a genuine blessing.
Chan, who has spastic cerebral palsy, felt that blessing enter his life in the form of Gaffney, a 2-year-old Goldador (a Golden Retriever-Labrador Retriever mix). Gaffney has become Chan’s third assistance dog in seventeen years, with Can Do Canines dog Jinx being his predecessor. When Jinx passed away rather suddenly last summer, Chan’s world was upended. “I felt I had lost my sense of purpose,” shares Chan. Not only did he find himself lonely and depressed, but also, his sense of freedom and independence faded.
A New Personal Care Attendant
Having used a wheelchair since age 2, Chan is physically dependent on others to get daily needs met. His cerebral palsy means that his tightened muscles make it difficult for him to open his hands and apply fine-motor skills. “My body moves a lot slower than the average person,” Chan explains. He has relied on personal care attendants to help with eating, cooking, and moving around efficiently. “Seemingly simple tasks cost me a lot more energy,” he says.
Luckily, Gaffney has energy to spare. Although Chan describes Gaffney as “laid-back and very relaxed most of the time,” the opposite of the “hyper-active, go-go-go” Jinx, he’s exactly what Chan needs. “If I need help, he’s right there and ready to figure out how to help me.”
Gaffney’s helpful tasks include activating push-plates for doors and the elevator in Chan’s Champlin apartment, tugging open the refrigerator, pushing elevator buttons, and returning Chan’s phone, the television remote, and a charger box to their proper tray. Chan emphasizes, “It takes a huge burden off of me, being that I need physical assistance for so many aspects of my daily life.” He’s not the only one who feels less of a burden. “My family feels better, knowing I’m not totally alone, so they worry about me less,” he says.
Gaffney gets plenty of practice with these skills. Chan describes, “To the best of our ability, we’ve established a daily routine, which includes walking at least twice a day outside and small training sessions throughout the day.” Yet, the rewards for this team don’t stop there. “After we’re done for the day, in the evenings,” Chan shares, Gaffney will “just hop on the bed, let me get close to him in my wheelchair and cuddle with me, almost as if he knows he’s supposed to be here. He’s doing his job in every way . . . I feel really good about where me and Gaffney are as a team, both as a bonding assistance dog team and as friends, learning to trust each other.”
More Than Just a Physical Presence
The combination of that friendship and trust with the physical assistance Gaffney provides has brought light back into Chan’s darkened world. Referring to his depression between dogs, Chan now conveys, “I’m thankful I don’t have to feel that way anymore. I needed something besides my own mental and emotional ability to get me back to where I needed to be. Gaffney’s played a big role in that.”
So as much as Gaffney retrieves physical items for Chan’s use, he also provides Chan with purpose and independence again. For all of this and more, Chan is deeply appreciative. He says, “I’m very thankful that I’m part of the Can Do Canines family.” Chan gives “a huge and heartfelt thank you” to those who “worked together as one big team” to make this partnership possible. He says, Gaffney “wouldn’t be with me and I wouldn’t have the freedom and happiness I have in my life that I’m starting again to have now. Without you, none of this would be possible, and I will be forever grateful.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Nancy Sue Edgar
Puppy Raiser: Federal Correctional Institution-Sandstone
Special Thanks: The Frie Family and Gregory Brown
You: Thank you for your donations!