Tiny pup makes healthy impact — Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes

Photos courtesy of Don Duncan. Dolly visits her owner, Don Duncan, in the ICU while he was in the hospital for his various health problems. She is trained to bark an alert when she notices an irregularity in his heartbeat.

Photos courtesy of Don Duncan. Dolly visits her owner, Don Duncan, in the ICU while he was in the hospital for his various health problems. She is trained to bark an alert when she notices an irregularity in his heartbeat.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

A wagging tail when you get home from work, a soft tongue licking your cheek, the feel of fur tickling your fingertips — there is a lot to like about living with a dog. But for Kalifornsky Beach Road resident Donald Duncan, having a canine companion means more than owning a pet. His service dog in training may one day save his life.

“She’s not Lassie yet. She still has a way to go, but that’s the hope,” Duncan said, referring to his service dog, a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix named Dolly.

Compared to more typical larger service dogs — such as German shepherds, Labradors or golden retrievers — it’s hard to imagine how this tiny, tricolored, kin-to-a-terrier pooch that weighs less than 10 pounds could save a man’s life. That is until Duncan’s medical past and present are fully understood.

Not only does 60-year-old Duncan live alone, but back in 2010 he had a stroke, leaving him paralyzed across the left half of his body.

“It was rather severe,” he said. “It took me a long time just to learn to walk and talk again.”

In addition to requiring the use of a cane, Duncan said he also experiences a condition called transient ischemic attack, which is a neurologic dysfunction caused by a disruption of cerebral blood flow. They are frequently referred to as ministrokes and can cause the same symptoms, such as paralysis, sudden weakness or numbness, sudden dimming or loss of vision, slurred speech and mental confusion. He’s also got six stents in his heart. Having a TIA is a risk factor for eventually having another full-blown stroke.

“I was having TIAs weekly. They were scary and dangerous,” he said.

Dolly, a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, is in training to be a service dog.

Dolly, a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, is in training to be a service dog.

Seeking regular medical help for his condition, a physician suggested Duncan consider getting a service dog. After researching various breeders, Dolly came into his life on April 20, 2012 — the one-year anniversary of the date that his youngest sister, Bobbi Sue, died of cancer. Dolly was born April 3, 2012, on Bobbi Sue’s birthday.

“I call her my gift from heaven,” Duncan said.

She went into service dog training immediately to be registered through the United States Service Dog Registry.

“Dolly helps me though it,” Duncan said. “Focusing on her keeps me tranquil and my stress down. I haven’t had a TIA in six weeks and the last one was mild. She also gives me exercise. I’ve learned to walk better just from taking her on regular walks.”

The ultimate goal, like with a service dog owned by a diabetic that can sense when their owner’s blood sugar is dropping to dangerous levels and alert them, is that Dolly could alert Duncan to the onset of a TIA.

“She’s still in training because she’s young, and she’ll likely have to go Outside to finish her training, but she’s so small she basically lives on my chest, so the hope is she could learn to detect an abnormality in my heart rate,” he said.

The dog is taught to normally remain silent unless something is amiss, so sudden barking would alert him of an impending TIA. And if he were already too far into a sudden seizure, the dog could call for help.

“I live in an apartment and my neighbors know about my condition and Dolly, so they know if they hear her barking like crazy to come check on me,” he said.
“Barking is for alert purposes only, although she is a puppy and gets excited now and then and forgets this — especially over moose,” he said.

Dolly still has months of training to go before she reaches this point, but Duncan said she is doing well so far, and he already is inseparable from his tiny heart monitor.

“We do everything together. I also do consulting work in town, so she’ll come to work with me and sit on my lap when I’m there,” he said. “She helps me though everything and I’m glad she’s here.”

5 Comments

Filed under health, pets

5 responses to “Tiny pup makes healthy impact — Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes

  1. People with legitimate service dogs know the the laws and know that certification/registration is not required so long as the dog meets the legal definition. Fake certification is provided by several companies and The United States Service Dog Registry is one of them. The people who buy fake certification do so because they know their dog’s real status and it is easier to purchase a fake document than to actually get their dog properly trained and evaluated by an expert. For more information on fake certification and the companies who provide it go to Service Dog Central. It is the one place to go for all information on service dogs.
    http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/fake-service-dog-credentials

  2. A dog need at least 1 1/2 – 2 years of intensive training to be to be a called a service dog. It must pass the public access test and should also pass the AKC canine good citizen test. This dog is already wearing a medical alert tag which it has not yet earned. A medical alert service dog must pass the same test as any other service dog, and more because it must be able to be depended on to alert for a specific reason. The owner says he HOPES the dog could learn to detect an abnormality in his heart rate. So apparently the dog has not learned it yet so he can not put this vest or this tag on the dog. That is illegal. It the tag said “In training” it would be all right but the way it is now, it is just plain wrong and is just another fake service dog which I have been fight against and will continue to fight against. People have to stop putting vests on their dogs before they are fully and properly trained.

  3. Pingback: Service dog news 3/3-3/9 | Dog Goes To College

  4. People with legitimate service dogs know the the laws and know that certification/registration is not required so long as the dog meets the legal definition. Fake certification is provided by several companies and The United States Service Dog Registry is one of them. The people who buy fake certification do so because they know their dog’s real status and it is easier to purchase a fake document than to actually get their dog properly trained and evaluated by an expert. For more information on fake certification and the companies who provide it go to Service Dog Central. It is the one place to go for all information on service dogs.
    http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/fake-service-dog-credentials

  5. Beverly Fisher

    I can understand the need this gentleman has for a service dog of any size. I am also in need of a service dog. I have a disease called RSD, & as of Sept. 26,2014, I have Type 1 Diabetes, caused by having 1/4 of my Pancreas removed, due to a Tumor being imbedded in it. Also had my Spleen remove as well. The surgery caused me to develop Type 1 Diabetes, & I have had 3 possibly 4 mini-strokes, which my neurologist thinks were caused by this uncontrolled diabetes. I have had 4 episodes of low Blood Sugar in less than 1 month. My old dog Star, whose has been with me for most of the worst times I had with my RSD& the things the medication did to me, so she ,just on instinct, has been the one to save me, my sugar has dropped 2 times while was asleep,& STAR was the one who woke me before it was to late. But my sweet Star is 13 & like her mom she doesn’t get around very good, anymore. We adopted a 1yr old Lab/Border Collie mix at an adoption program this past summer. I don’t know if she can learn how to know when I’m in trouble, she wants to spend all her time with my husband, ,Jim. He is the one who spotted her. She wasn’t exactly what I went to get for a dog that I might train to help me, I wanted a small dog, not one her size. She isn’t real big, but she weighs about 60 lbs. I still hope to find a small dog to help me before Star leaves.
    I’m very happy for this gentleman & his Wee Service Dog, God Bless him & his Wee helper.

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