Oak Harbor resident Sandi Larsen, is a spunky woman who experienced a spinal cord injury and lost an arm years ago. She suffers from chronic pain, depression, limited mobility in her remaining arm and severe osteoarthritis of multiple joints.
Sandi learned of Summit Assistance Dogs, an Anacortes-based nonprofit organization that provides highly-skilled mobility, hearing, and therapy dogs for people with disabilities. Established in 2000, Summit is the inspiration of founder and director, Susan Meinzinger, a graduate of the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa, California. Summit was founded in response to the overwhelming need for more trained assistance dogs. Over fifty-five million Americans are living with disabilities and of those who desire partnership with a canine helpmate, only 1 per cent is able to receive a dog due to a shortage of trained dogs. Only two other organizations currently provide similar services in Washington State, and applicants are waiting 2-5 years to receive a dog. Summit provides dogs for people with mobility and hearing impairments, as well as therapy dogs for medically fragile young children, hospitals, schools and long-term care facilities. Lifelong follow up care with our graduates helps to assure the success of our graduating teams.
Assistance dogs increase independence for people with disabilities by performing many tasks such as opening/closing doors, turning on/off lights, retrieving dropped items, getting the phone in case of emergency. They are also trained to alert hearing-impaired people to various sounds such as doorbells, alarms, the telephone or a crying baby. Most importantly, they alleviate depression and loneliness by providing unconditional love and companionship. Many of the dogs trained by Summit are rescued from shelters, thereby providing these animals a new leash on life.’
In November of 2003, after waiting two very long years for a placement, Sandi graduated from the Summit Assistance Dogs program with her new service dog,Thor. In her first week home they made a trip to the store. This was Sandi’s first trip out on her own in over three years, and she felt exhilarated. Prior to receiving Thor, she could feel the cold and curious stares of others as she moved through the store. Now when she is out people still stare, but the look in their eyes is very different. It is warm and accompanied by a smile. People she doesn’t even know come up to talk to her, wondering about her handsome companion. When she is home alone and drops something, she no longer has to wait for her aide to arrive. Thor just picks it up for her! When she gets into bed, he turns off the light. If she needs help with her socks, he gives them a tug. Sandi has told us that having Thor in her life is like having her left arm back. She recently said that he brightens her day so much that she no longer needs the anti-depressant medication she was taking prior to receiving Thor. Thor has opened so many doors for Sandi, both literally and figuratively. They go outdoors every single day. They ride the bus together, go shopping or just go out to enjoy some time together at the park. He is her best friend.
Debbie Craig is a trainer and Director of Development for Summit Assistance Dogs, www.summitdogs.org. You may contact Summit Assistance Dogs at 360-293-5609 or firstname.lastname@example.org.