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Tails from Minnesota: Web Exclusive

More Than a Pet

Birgit Lillehei and Mobility Assist Dog Ellie

Squeaky toys can be heard in the background. Gentle “woofs” follow. There’s a scuffle near a chair. These are not uncommon scenes in the life of a dog owner, but Birgit is not an average owner, and Ellie is not your average pet.

o D Can

by Leah Follese

s e n i Can

Birgit Lillehei, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), initially adopted Ellie for companionship, but quickly realized Ellie had the potential to do so much more. At a MS convention, Birgit met a friend who couldn’t stop raving about his assistance dog, trained with the help of Can Do Canines. “Could I add another dog to my brood?” Birgit thought. She decided she’d better not, realizing instead that Ellie might have what it takes to be an assistance dog. The chocolate Labrador retriever was smart, a fast learner and could even pick up a specific skill after only seeing a command three times. She was a perfect candidate. So, Birgit applied to Can Do Canines to have Ellie trained.

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> B E W < e v i s u l c x E ead on ... for you. But if you have a dog next to you, people see you,” Birgit says.

Diagnosed with MS a little over ten years ago, Birgit’s symptoms started with, as she describes it … “100% pain.” Common with people who have MS, her condition progressed, leading to balance and mobility issues.

Ellie is also a pro at retrieving dropped items, as well as acting as a pillar of emotional strength. Birgit finds it encouraging that the eager lab knows what is going on with her, and is an ever-present friend. She credits Can Do Canines and Ellie’s trainer for her security and independence in public and appreciates that whenever she has a question, the knowledge and advice of Can Do Canines is always available.

“I weeble-wobble back and forth a lot, and fall over quite a bit. I live in a house with a very narrow hallway, and tend to ‘ricochet’ off the walls,” Birgit says smiling.

“I have a friend out there that I can call,” Birgit says. “Here’s what’s going on … should I take her to the vet, should I not? I completely trust Can Do Canines.”

Birgit admits she wasn’t even traveling to places like the grocery store before Ellie was trained to be an assistance dog. If she were to go and dropped something, picking it up would lead to a catastrophe.

When asked if there was anything she’d like to say to the people who support the organization, Birgit hesitates, then responds with teary eyes, “How do you express that in words?” 

R

“If I bend over to pick things up, I usually fall over head first. So, if I tilt over … I go over,” Birgit says. Now officially trained and certified, Birgit relies on Ellie to provide a counter-balance as she walks and to steady herself as she gets up. In the past, Birgit used a cane for balance, but an assistance dog has proven to be significantly more beneficial.

“If I’m using my cane, I’d say people do not watch out

Can Do Canines


Tails from Minnesota: Web Exclusive

More Than a Pet

Birgit Lillehei and Mobility Assist Dog Ellie

by Leah Follese

Squeaky toys can be heard in the background. Gentle “woofs” follow. There’s a scuffle near a chair. These are not uncommon scenes in the life of a dog owner, but Birgit is not an average owner, and Ellie is not your average pet.

Birgit Lillehei, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), initially adopted Ellie for companionship, but quickly realized Ellie had the potential to do so much more. At a MS convention, Birgit met a friend who couldn’t stop raving about his assistance dog, trained with the help of Can Do Canines. “Could I add another dog to my brood?” Birgit thought. She decided she’d better not, realizing instead that Ellie might have what it takes to be an assistance dog. The chocolate Labrador retriever was smart, a fast learner and could even pick up a specific skill after only seeing a command three times. She was a perfect candidate. So, Birgit applied to Can Do Canines to have Ellie trained. Diagnosed with MS a little over ten years ago, Birgit’s symptoms started with, as she describes it … “100% pain.” Common with people who have MS, her condition progressed, leading to balance and mobility issues. “I weeble-wobble back and forth a lot, and fall over quite a bit. I live in a house with a very narrow hallway, and tend to ‘ricochet’ off the walls,” Birgit says smiling. Birgit admits she wasn’t even traveling to places like the grocery store before Ellie was trained to be an assistance dog. If she were to go and dropped something, picking it up would lead to a catastrophe. “If I bend over to pick things up, I usually fall over head first. So, if I tilt over … I go over,” Birgit says. Now officially trained and certified, Birgit relies on Ellie to provide a counter-balance as she walks and to steady herself as she gets up. In the past, Birgit used a cane for balance, but an assistance dog has proven to be significantly more beneficial.

Can Do Canines

Birgit Lillehei and Mobility Assist Dog Ellie

“If I’m using my cane, I’d say people do not watch out for you. But if you have a dog next to you, people see you,” Birgit says. Ellie is also a pro at retrieving dropped items, as well as acting as a pillar of emotional strength. Birgit finds it encouraging that the eager lab knows what is going on with her, and is an ever-present friend. She credits Can Do Canines and Ellie’s trainer for her security and independence in public and appreciates that whenever she has a question, the knowledge and advice of Can Do Canines is always available. “I have a friend out there that I can call,” Birgit says. “Here’s what’s going on … should I take her to the vet, should I not? I completely trust Can Do Canines.” When asked if there was anything she’d like to say to the people who support the organization, Birgit hesitates, then responds with teary eyes, “How do you express that in words?” 


Tails from Minnesota: Web Exclusive

Always Got Your Back

Jacob Larsen and Mobility Assist Dog Inky

by Jenna Paananen

Jacob Larsen of Ramsey, Minn. is an engaging individual who enjoys being out in the community attending sporting events, concerts and participating in activities at the Courage Center. Cheerful, kind, and soft-spoken, he has a dedicated resolve to live an active lifestyle, despite the mobility obstacles he faces.

Inky assists Jacob both at home and in the community picking up dropped items, opening doors, and carrying small items. “He alleviates a lot of stress and worry when I do drop things and I feel more secure when I am by myself at home. Chances are if someone can’t do what I need, more than likely he can.”

Jacob has Cerebral Palsy and Quadraparesis. He uses an electric wheelchair and other adaptive equipment to maintain as much independence as possible in his dayto-day life. And while Jacob is quite capable of finding creative ways to complete tasks, there are everyday tasks that pose difficulty for him and sometimes cause substantial pain. For instance, Jacob frequently has difficulty carrying small items, picking up items off of the floor, and any task that requires too much lifting or reaching as it causes extreme back pain.

Jacob also believes that Inky has improved his quality of life in other ways.

“Everything in my life takes steps,” Jacob says. “Whatever the process is, it’s a round-about process. Most people could do it in one simple step, but for me it takes about four.” Jacob first learned of Can Do Canines through the Courage Center after expressing an interest in owning an assistance dog. After applying for the program he was matched with Inky, a two-year-old, black Labrador retriever.

“I have a confidence now to go out somewhere and have him with me as a back-up,” Jacob says. “I’m kind of shy to begin with and I don’t approach a lot of people even when I have to. But as a result of Inky, I’m more approachable and visa-versa.” Jacob and Inky certainly have a lot to look forward to and Jacob is thankful to Can Do Canines for the opportunity to live a more accessible, confident, and out-going life.  We Thank Those Who Made This Placement Possible: c c c

Puppy Raiser – Michele & Shawn McLane Long-Term Foster – Inmate Handlers at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Faribault Dog Source – Can Do Canines

Inky’s Puppy Raisers describe him as very smart and a quick learner. Eager to get to work, Inky proved from a young age that he’s always got your back! In fact, on one occasion Inky’s puppyraiser was sick and had left an ice pack in her bedroom. Without prompting, Inky gently carried the ice pack from the bedroom into the living room and handed it to her. The next day, Inky brought her a used Kleenex, which obviously wasn’t as useful, but she knew it was the thought that counts! When asked to describe Inky’s personality, Jacob smiled and said, “He’s very attentive, very lovable and very playful. I think our personalities match quite well.” Jacob Larsen and Mobility Assist Dog Inky

Can Do Canines

Tails from Minnesota - Fall 2014 - WEBex  
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