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September 30, 2013

New leash on life

Living life with a service dog

CORBIN — By Charlotte Underwood / Staff Writer

As Tina Davis reached to grab something off the shelf while shopping at the Walmart in Corbin, her oxygen hose slipped from her nose. Her service dog, Koda, quickly hopped down from her lap, retrieved the dropped hose and had it back to her before she began having trouble breathing.

“He’s a lifesaver; I don’t know what I would do without him,” Tina Davis said as she replaced her oxygen hose.  

But how does the public react to these “lifesavers”? Several area residents shared their stories, both good and bad, about living life with a service dog.

Service dog training

 Many people with disabilities train their own animals, according to Norb Ryan, the state coordinator for Americans with Disablities Act (ADA). According to Ryan, there are advantages to self-training the animals. It can save money  since having a service dog trained can cost  thousands of dollars. It  also provides a personal bond between the dog and the person with the disability.

Bound to a power chair and on constant oxygen due to her illness, Laurel County resident Tina Davis relies heavily upon Bella, Koda and George, the three service dogs that are now part of her family. Her husband, Jim Davis, is a military veteran and a recent knee replacement recipient. He, too, depends upon the animals that were trained by their son, Michael Davis, and themselves.

“When you are part of their everyday training, it provides a tighter bond,” said Whitley County resident Miranda Smith, who uses her service dog for mobility needs. If she falls or begins to lose her balance, her service dog, Sierra, a boxer, rushes to her aid and helps her. Sierra was trained by Miranda Smith and her aunt, Lisa. Miranda Smith has had her service dog for three years and said she could not imagine her not being there to help.

“Really she is one of the unique ones who has trained me,” said Miranda Smith, explaining that when she got Sierra nearly three years ago, she did not intend for her to be a service dog.

“Miranda was sick one day with a migraine and had been throwing up. Sierra was only 4 months old, but she kept coming and getting me, trying to get me to go check on Miranda,” Lisa Smith said, adding that was when she knew Sierra had the temperament to be a service dog.

“I told Miranda if she is this smart then we can train her to do lots of things,” Lisa Smith said.

“She helps me up, she keeps an eye on me. If there is a noise in the middle of the night, she practically breaks her neck to come check on me. She helps me get through my everyday life,” Miranda Smith said.

Corbin resident Brandi White sometimes feels “sensory overload” due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When this happens, Digby, her golden retriever, will extend a therapeutic paw and touch her, drawing her attention away from the crowd. Brandi and her husband Joe have been working with Digby for the past three months.

“It’s just better sometimes if you can provide the training yourself. The dog responds to your needs specifically and you both learn as you go through the training,” Brandi White said.

Kentucky law pertaining to service animals also allows for service animals in training, according to Ryan.

“The law requires that when service animals in training are in public, their handler must carry proof that they are trainers of service animals. There is no further information in the law about what an appropriate training program would be, nor is there any state agency that would issue such certifications,” Ryan said.

Educating the public

Tina Davis and other service dog handlers are seeking to educate the general public about rules and regulations regarding the use of service dogs.

Tina Davis said that while many places in the area are good about allowing her and her husband’s service dogs to accompany them, other businesses have been “truly nasty” about her dogs being with her in their stores. One area store insisted she could not bring her animals into the business, which, according to ADA, is illegal. Tina Davis said she plans to contact the ADA, if the business doesn’t correct the denial of service to her.

She said she and her husband rely upon their service dogs to perform many tasks. The dogs will  throw things away for the couple, open and close doors, provide a brace and summon help if needed.

“They bring me my medicine and the list really goes on and on of what they do for my husband and me; they give us our independence back,” Davis said, adding that it would be hard to exist without them.

“They can really do anything you need them to; if they haven’t already learned how to do it, it just takes some time and training and the right dog treat,” Michael Davis said, adding that Bella was in the process of learning how to push the handicap button to open doors at businesses.

 The dogs are “invaluable” to the couple who take them when they go shopping.

Many service dogs wear blue “Service Dog” vests and  tags that read “Service Dog: Do Not Pet.” However, according to the ADA, this is not required. The Davis’ service dogs all three wear vests and patches proclaiming they are working and to not pet them. Despite these notifications, people are often curious about the animals and will sometimes approach the couple. Most are respectful and understand the dogs are performing a job, but there is always a few that seem to have a problem with service dogs being in a place of business, according to Tina Davis.

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