Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Balance dog " helps girl with seizures

Ann and Cora Mitchell's new dog, Lazer, is a golden retriever that does more than just sit, stay, and lie down.

After months of raising money to buy a "balance dog" for her daughter with cerebral palsy, Ann Mitchell of Windsor Locks was finally able to make Lazer an official member of the family last week.

For several years, Cora, 10, had a dog that would help her with her balance when she and her mother lived in Pennsylvania. But when the two came to Connecticut about a year ago, they had to give the dog up, Mitchell said.With the help of the dog in Pennsylvania, Cora's seizures were minimal, but since then, her seizures have increased, and her balance has been compromised on many occasions.

In November of 2006, Mitchell began raising money for a new balance dog after Cora's doctor recommended that she get one through East Coast Assistance Dogs, an organization that raises, trains, and places dogs with people who have lost some of their independence as a result of a disability.Unable to work because of the amount of school Cora was missing due to her seizures, Mitchell enlisted the help of businesses and members of her community in raising the $6,500 she needed for the dog.

Mitchell said last week that after generous contributions from friends, members of her church, and even strangers, she was finally able to afford the dog, and began "doggie boot camp" with Cora and Lazer on Feb. 1.From the time they are puppies, dogs at East Coast Assistance Dogs receive over 300 hours of training, during which time they learn more than 80 commands. With this training, Lazer will be able to help Cora if she falls, assist her in getting up and down the stairs, and can even help her get undressed.

For two weeks in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Mitchell and her daughter participated in daily training with their new dog and learned how to interact with Lazer on trips to the mall, grocery store, or any other public place.Mitchell said that Cora also had to take a written test each day to assess what she had learned throughout the training process.Cora's final test came last Tuesday when she had to perform specific tasks to prove that she could handle the dog in public, Mitchell said.The training process took place at The Children's Village, which is a place that offers help to troubled kids between the ages of 8 and 21, Mitchell said.

She described the training as a "win-win situation" for everyone involved since the kids actually help with the training and are therefore exposed to a positive, life-affirming experience. "The people have been awesome. It's taken a lot of extra time with her," but the trainers were very patient and helpful, Mitchell said.And since training with Lazer began, Mitchell said that Cora has really benefited from her interaction with the dog.

"She's been doing very well with him," Mitchell said. "She has good control of him and even took him to church on Sunday, and he just laid down under her seat and was very quiet."Mitchell expressed gratitude for all of the contributions that enabled her and Cora to pay for Lazer and said that she is happy to see her daughter so excited about her new dog."It's definitely built up her confidence," she said.


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