KINGSTON – Students attending the Harry L. Edson Summer School Program received a first-hand account about overcoming adversity recently when speakers from Canine Companions, a non-profit organization that raises, trains, and provides assistance dogs, visited the school to talk about their experiences.
The event featured two people with mobility issues: Will Brosnahan, who brought his service dog, Moose, and Cara Marvin, who was accompanied by her service dog, Winnie.
Also on hand was Chris Cullen, a “puppy trainer,” who brought her puppy-in-training, 7-month-old Randall. Chris, who has trained six service dogs so far, described the process of training animals for different needs. The key to the process, she said, is that trainers use encouragement rather than negative reinforcement. The abilities of service dogs to help their owners goes beyond what you might think, she said, noting that service dogs can help aid those with visual/hearing impairments, mobility issues, epilepsy, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.
Will and Cara, who both rely on wheelchairs, talked about how their service dogs help them in their everyday lives. They also discussed and in some cases demonstrated a few of the helpful actions their dedicated service dogs are trained to perform. Cara showed how Winnie can help pick up things she has dropped. Will spoke about how he sometimes needs help getting up a ramp or moving forward when he needs one arm to carry something. When given the “pull” command, Moose will pull him around, giving him the extra support he needs. Chris gave more examples of how service dogs can help protect their owners from danger, such as alerting someone with hearing impairments when a fire alarm is going off.
At the conclusion of the talk, students had the opportunity to ask the guest speakers questions, which ranged from “How did you get your service dog?” to “What is the greatest way your service dog has made your life better?” To the latter, Cara replied that as she can be alone a lot, having Winnie helps her to avoid feeling lonely and “makes every day happier.”
Overall, the experience provided students with a firsthand account of triumphing over challenges and showcased the remarkable bond between humans and service dogs.