Penny and Cooper
by Penny L.
Cooper is a shy, 5 year old Australian red Border Collie. I got him when he was 14 weeks old because he had been picked out by someone who never showed up to get him at 8 weeks, and he was the only one left of his litter. He has always been a handful, and easy-hard to train. Easy in that he picks up new commands quickly, and hard because he decides what to do with them! We did agility and advanced obedience and trick training. When he was 2 I had to move out of the country for veterinary school, so I had to have him stay with family members until I could figure out how to bring him to school with me. When I got all the details figured out, I made an agreement with him; if he was going to come to school with me he would have to work.
I have had asthma and allergies all my life, and they have gotten worse as I've gotten older, and Ive been hospitalized for it and it will put me out for days sometimes. I decided that Cooper would be trained to assist me by carrying my emergency medical supplies and instructions for medical personnel, as well as help me to lessen my anxiety with an asthma attack (his main job). I had trained hunting Labs, and taught puppy classes and was well-trained in dog behavior before I got him. I began by researching what a service dog needs to do to pass his test, and read every single service dog law. I also got him CGC certified by a trainer we had never met until the day of the test. (The novel test greeting dog was in heat and he passed with flying colors!)
As soon as the backpack is on him, he is a completely different dog - most people mistake him for a small Golden Retriever instead of a bouncy energetic Border Collie. When I feel an asthma attack coming on I reach down and get my inhaler from his pouch, take a few puffs and put it back and settle back into whatever I was doing. It's awesome, I no longer forget my inhaler and have much less severe attacks because I know he's there for me.
I did have to get one of the "online throw your money away" certificates because I would be traveling with him overseas and American laws don't hold well that far, but the piece of paper has saved me many times. Unfortunately, my school does not recognize service dogs (neither does this country), so he is unable to help me here. But as soon as we go home he quickly switches back into work mode.
About a year into our team-work, I noticed sometimes he would stand up randomly like in a movie theater or restaurant and stare at me. At first I thought he was just wanting to be petted or get attention, but after a few times of this I began recognizing that I would have an asthma attack about 5-15 minutes after he did this and would need my inhaler. I realized that he was anticipating my needing my inhaler and was expecting me to take it from his backpack like I always did - but he was anticipating it before I even recognized the first signs!! So I started taking my inhaler when he would do this, and stopped having as many attacks! I don't know how he knows, if it's scent, chemicals, body language or breathing rate. All I know is, with him, I'm healthier and happier!
We have run across problems, just like everyone else. We are hassled, teased, laughed at, pointed at, humiliated and constantly astounded by rude people, and can barely walk through stores sometimes. We do have our bad days, and both of us get frustrated, but mostly I am very proud of him. It's those moments when that little girl pets him and her mom tells me she is deathly afraid of dogs, but because he is a "helper doggie" she knows he will not hurt her that I know he's doing his part. We have been in over 30 US states, and 2 countries. He has been in national parks, casinos, airports, customs lines, trains, airplanes, stores, a Plain White Tee's concert, movie theaters, hotels, and used as a teaching model for veterinary school (including as a blood donor). I can't say that of nearly any other Border Collie.
I thank God for my beautiful dog.
Penny, sorry we did not publish this sooner. Thanks so much for sharing the story of you and Cooper. So glad to hear he is helping you have fewer asthma attacks! It sounds like you will be an awesome veterinarian once you have finished school. Note that his photos and a link to your story will be in the Monthly Dog Show on our home page for May 2012. Jo