Service dogs turn out to more than just best friends

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Jake, a black and white border collie, can be seen walking elderly people as he makes one of his regular visits to the local hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Jake is a service and therapy dog trained to help people with their daily activities and cheer them up.

Jake's owner, Shannan Koucherik, has been training dogs since she was a child but started professionally in 1970.

She said a service dog can change a person's life by allowing them to do tasks that had previously been too challenging without a little help.

Koucherik specialized in training service dogs in 1988 when she learned that disabled children often have to wait eight to 10 years to get a dog to help them.

"The rewards come when I see the hope in a client's face and hear the excitement in their voice," Koucherik said.

She said the American with Disabilities Act gave people with disabilities access to public places.

In addition, service dogs can enter public places to give assistance

to a person.

Koucherik said there is a difference between service and therapy dogs. Therapy dogs primarily visit hospitals and other areas but they cannot go into restaurants or grocery stores unless certified as a service dog.

She said Jake is both a service and therapy dog and has made a tremendous impact on the people he has visited.

Jake visited a man with Alzheimer's disease who had not spoken for several months. Koucherik said the man was unresponsive to even his family sitting around him but after Jake laid his head in the man's lap, he began to talk about "other dogs."

"His family was thrilled," she said.

Koucherik said Jake really enjoys being the center of attention and helping people feel better.

She said he will even put his paws up on the nurse's desk and greet whoever is sitting there.

"He is a real ham and enjoys getting people to laugh," she said.

Kourcherik and her husband currently are training two Labradors and one Border Collie. The Koucheriks have foster families that raise their puppies until the puppies are old enough to begin the training process.

Koucherik said one of the biggest challenges is finding dogs suited to the job. She said there is about a fifty percent chance of finding a dog with the right disposition.

"She is very thorough," said Lynette Weaver of the Heeling Friends pet visitation program. Weaver said Koucherik has an intuition with dogs and can tell almost from looking at them whether the dog would excel as a service or therapy dog.

"It's been a life-long interest for her to train dogs for servicing other people," Weaver said.

She said Koucherik is the member of Heeling Friends who is certified through the Delta Society to be an evaluator.

Weaver said Koucherik is good at understanding the level of communication shared between a handler and his or her dog. She said the relationship between a handler and his or her dog is crucial to the success of the team.

The wide range of services dogs can be trained for include search and rescue, police patrol, drug detection, wildlife management, managing stock, seizure and heart attack alert, hearing alert and for emotional support.

To reach Jamie Hallman call 871-1810 or email hallmanjamie@hotmail.com

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