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Assistance Dog's Work Is No "Child's Play"

Based on an article that appeared in Newf Tide written by Cathi Catlett, 1st Q 2000

While at the breeder's house, I observed all of the puppies in different situations and settings, then chose a very patient male to begin training as my Assistance Dog. With the guidance of a private Assistance Dog trainer, I decided to owner-train him. This choice would help us develop a strong bond very early in our training and our relationship. We would work together from the day he arrived, continuing daily using positive motivation that is based truly on love and understanding. I thought that he deserved a strong, dignified name, so he became Burningstar's Child's Play, "Clayton."

At first, because of my neuromuscular disease and not being able to depend on strength or movement from my shoulders/arms to give collar cues, I thought that the proper piece of equipment needed would be a pinch collar. I quickly learned what works best for this gentle giant is verbal cues and/or slight hand movements using a Gentle Leader. I knew that maneuverability would be crucial in places because of his projected size. Clayton was taught to "position"—moving him in small increments of inches by having him take a small step forward, backward, over, closer, and/or moving him from one side of my body to the other. Clayton was also taught backing skills at an early age. He backs with me side by side, backs while facing me as I move toward him, and backs on verbal direction without me moving. Since Clayton began with me at such a young age, he has seen the progression of my neuromuscular disease.As I lost the ability to depend on my shoulders, arms, and hands, Clayton picked up that I needed him to do more and was eagerly waiting for me to teach him. There are days that I am too fatigued to do much beyond the basics. During these periods, Clayton chooses to lay beside me and let me experience his unconditional love.

Clayton, now six years old, helps me remain independent in many ways. Clayton happily walks alongside my battery-powered wheelchair but is trained to pull it if the batteries were to fail. Additional things that Clayton helps me with are: he turns me at night, helps me get dressed/undressed, helps me transfer to and from my wheelchair, lowers me into and out of the bathtub, carries things for me in his mouth and/or his backpack, and reaches for things on high shelves.

Burningstar's Childs Play,
Assistance Dog 0420940 H.P. 4-0090.H.S.D.

clayton opens door
Clayton opens a door for Cathi.
(Photo by Pat Pourchot)

I utilize his draft skills by having him pull his cart through the grocery store and out in the yard, he turns on and off light switches, pushes elevator buttons, opens heavy glass commercial doors using a special strap, retrieves dropped items and things that I need—from the refrigerator, the phone, the remote control, coins, etc.

Clayton turns me every four hours at night. To turn me, he uses his paw to move my legs and hips in the other direction, and then takes my hand in his mouth, to "pull" my

upper body over to the same direction as my legs. To get me back into my wheelchair from the floor, Clayton allows me to maneuver my upper body onto him, while I hold on around his shoulders. He "sits," then "stands to brace" to place me back into my wheelchair. To lower me into the bathtub, Clayton helps me transfer to the side of the tub, helps to lift my legs into the tub, then with me holding on around his neck he lowers me into the tub.Clayton is able to recognize when my blood sugar is going low, leading to a seizure. He alerts me 15-20 minutes prior to a seizure. Clayton immediately stops, raises his head, stares into my eyes and will whine purposefully until I respond. If I cannot respond to his cues, he will stand in front of my legs to brace me as I fall forward and eases me to the floor. He lays beside me until I finish seizing and then will help me back into my wheelchair. If Clayton feels that we need additional assistance, he activates our 911 emergency help button.

Clayton's work is carefully balanced with time off. After his equipment is removed, he gets to run, play and rest—recess, as we call it. This past year at the National Specialty in Solomons, Maryland, Clayton and Buddy—Dick Shumer's Assistance Dog—spent their time off playing a nightly game of "duck and dash."

Neither Clayton nor I know what the future holds. But, as in the past, together we will enjoy the time we share and continue to find the ways that work best for us.

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Introducing: Garret -

Cathi Catlett, September 2006

For over a year and one-half I researched and talked with my breeder about what I was looking for in a Newfoundland. In 2001 I was invited to meet a litter of white and black recessive Newfoundland puppies.

garrett shopping
Garret carries a bag of groceries for Cathi

A particular boy (who I named Garret) was very interested in the ways in which Clayton and I worked and played together.I made sure that all of Garret's training and learning was done in a positive manner. This taught Garret to keep his attention and focus on me. Garret quickly figured out that the series of individual steps I trained him for would add up to the tasks that he learned from watching Clayton.

garrett in the snow
Garret playing ball with
Cathi in the snow.

garrett at the nationalCathi Catlett and Garret at the
National Specialty 2003.

In March 2002, Clayton's arthritis got to the point that I could not keep him comfortable any longer. Garret and I helped Clayton make his trip to heaven.

In February 2003, Garret officially became my second certified Assistance Dog. Proudly, Garret has filled and continues to fill those paw prints to help me with my disability.



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