Service dogs are trained to help make people who have physical disabilities live's easier.Service dog, Kazi does just that. He picks up dropped keys, pulls out pots from lower cabinets, and even opens the refrigerator door. When I was greeted by Jacqueline and her beautiful four-year-old golden retriever,Kazi wasn't wearing his working vest so I was able to pet him. After Jacqueline and I spoke for a while about how Kazi helps her to live a more independent life, it was time for Kazi to show me what he could do. Once Jacqueline strapped on Kazi's working vest, I wasn't allowed to pet him or talk to him. Jacqueline explained how this would distract him from doing his job. When I speak to children about service dogs I share the message that you should never approach a dog that is wearing a service vest because they are doing a job. Distracting a working dog of any kind could result in an injury to his handler. It is, however, okay to talk to the dog's handler.
In the Service Dog Heroes book I was able to include quotes from my interview with Dr. Bonnie Bergin who founded Canine Campanions for Independence, the first service dog program. Her program trained and assisted in the placement of service dogs for people with physical disabilities. I was amazed to find out that it was donkeys she saw being used in Turkey to help people walk and guide dogs being used in the United States that gave her the idea to train dogs to perform service work. In 1991, Dr. Bergin founded the Assistant Dog Institute at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Santa Rosa, California. It is here where people learn to breed, train, and place service dogs with physically disabled people. Dr. Bergin continues her work today at the University and hopes that her students will discover new ways to improve on the amazing work she has already done.
Of all the interviews I conducted for this series, I have to say, Dr. Bergin's impacted me the most. I believe the events that led Dr. Bergin on the path to do the work she does were not coincidences, but that they were meant to be so people with physical disabilities would have the chance to live more independent lives.
I recently learned that the Service Dog Heroes book has been nominated as a finalist for the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Award. My hope is that this nomination will bring more attention and support to service dog programs and that this book will help educate young readers about service dogs.