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LINDSI JOHNSON: Niles, here. Speak!
LINDSI: That’s it!
LINDSI: That’s it!
LINDSI: Good boy... speaking’s one of his favorite things.
RANDY: That’s Niles, a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever who can do a lot more than just bark on command. Niles is a service and facility dog, raised and trained by the non-profit organization Canine Companions for Independence. Founded in 1975, CCI’s stated purpose is “to enhance independence and improve quality of life” for people with disabilities. And Niles is unique, at least within the Mercy Health organization: he’s the first trained assistance dog in Mercy’s Physical and Occupational Therapy department anywhere in the system—Springfield, St. Louis, Joplin or Lebanon. Certified occupational therapist Lindsi Johnson is Niles’s handler.
Is this a fairly new...?
LINDSI: It is brand-new for Mercy.
RANDY: Does he go around to all the facilities?
LINDSI: No. He’s the only one, but I keep joking with him that he’s going to be a dime-a-dozen because we’re applying for two more service dogs for a new rehab hospital, and then Lebanon is on the waiting list—they’re going to receive a service dog as well.
RANDY: Canine Companions for Independence works mostly with black Labs, golden retrievers, and crosses between the two, says Lindsi Johnson, at least for physical therapy purposes.
Why are they so useful for this purpose?
LINDSI: Retrievers are just wonderful as a service dog because they just want to please. A retriever just wants to make you happy, and so they’re perfect for a service dog. The organization does also use border collies for sight and vision dogs for the vision-impaired, because a border collie doesn’t miss a thing in the world, so they’re perfect for a sight dog, whereas a Labrador will do anything to make you happy.
RANDY: Now, what kind of training did you have to have to be able to work with a service dog?
LINDSI: I had to go to Ohio for two weeks to get trained to utilize Niles, and then there’s a lot of follow-up that goes with that. And then we also had to learn handling skills. The dogs know forty commands—basic commands—and with those 40 commands we had to learn how to give them, how to correct the dogs.
RANDY: They’re taught those commands before you get to them as a handler.
LINDSI: Correct. So when I got Niles he knew everything. I just had to be taught what he knew!
RANDY: What kinds of different patients does he work with, and what does he do for them?
LINDSI: We’re a neuro outpatient clinic. And he also works on our inpatient rehab, where most of our patients have either had strokes or they’ve had brain injuries, spinal cord injuries. And then we have a few people that have other neurological diagnoses such as Parkinson’s and MS.
RANDY: Why is a service dog helpful for these kinds of patients?
LINDSI: Well, for us, and I think—and “M &M,” you can speak to this—it just makes you feel better to have him.
MARJORIE MALAISE: Oh, yes.
RANDY: “M&M” is Lindsi’s nickname for Marjorie Malaise, a stroke patient who just celebrated her 91st birthday last week.
MARJORIE: He’s just such a nice companion, and so loving. And I thoroughly enjoy him and look forward to seeing him and being with him.
RANDY: Marjorie comes in for weekly one-hour physical therapy sessions, and Niles the black Lab usually participates for about 15 minutes in each session, says occupational therapist Lindsi Johnson.
LINDSI: So for Marjorie, I have her brush him for range-of-motion. I have her take his harness on and off for fine motor skills—it’s related to her being able to get herself dressed, which is something, as an occupational therapist, I work with.
MARJORIE: One time we were going to go outside, just to be outside, and he reached up and hit the door (opener) because he knew how to get out there, and he was anxious!
LINDSI: Yep, that’s his favorite, isn’t it, to go outside?
RANDY: Do you have a dog of your own?
MARJORIE: Oh, yes—a Chihuahua!
RANDY: (chuckling) This is kind of a difference!
RANDY: Would you want to have a dog this big in your own house?
MARJORIE: Oh, sure! He’s wonderful.
LINDSI: Yeah, that’s right. Niles loves everybody, so he’s happy with anyone that wants to touch him or pet him or give him attention.
RANDY: We have a link to a video of Niles working with Marjorie, handing her plastic rings to place over a pole in the room, when you click on this story at our website ksmu.org.
Information on Canine Companions for Independence is available at their website www.cci.org, on Facebook and Twitter, or by calling toll-free 1(800) 572-BARK (2275). For KSMU I’m Randy Stewart.
(Sound fades out on Lindsi encouraging Niles: “That’s it... good job....”)