It’s amazing to see a disabled person and their service dog working together as a team. Side by side, step for step, with the animal filling in the gaps of the person’s abilities like missing pieces of a puzzle, the symbiotic relationship is a thing of beauty. But in the case of one special woman and one rescued dog, the story of their bond is even more incredible.
Kerri Reid, now 33, was born 15 weeks premature, weighed just 1 pound, 7 ounces, and was legally blind. By the age of 7 she knew she wanted a service dog and at age 17 she received one from a program in Ohio. Over the years, Kerri owned four seeing-eye dogs and lived independently, even earning a degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University. She then worked developing and running a job-seeking skills program for the disabled.
But then Kerri became ill and later developed complications which were likely linked to her premature birth. In 2004, this strong, independent woman found herself needing a wheelchair to move around. Worse yet, she had to return her seeing-eye dog because she now had multiple needs from a service animal.
Most service dogs from organizations are trained for tasks related to one specific disability such as blindness, deafness, or mobility-impaired. People with multiple disabilities need a cross-trained service dog. Once Kerri had multiple challenges to deal with, it became complicated to find an appropriate service animal for her.
Kerri felt that her years spent with service dogs gave her the life experience to train her own dog to be exactly what she needed. The success rate for owners who train their own service dogs is only about 1 in 100. Dogs trained professionally by organizations undergo years of socialization and training and there’s a fail rate even at that. Undeterred and with a heart for rescued animals, Kerri began what she expected to be a long search at her local shelter, the Larimer Humane Society in Fort Collins, Colorado.
It’s there that a pregnant, black Labrador Retriever stray had been brought in after roaming the streets. The dog’s temperament, personality and intelligence won Kerri over. Within a week, she adopted the homeless dog and headed back to her assisted living center to begin training Sophie.
Right from the start, Sophie was comfortable among wheelchairs, medical apparatus and walkers. “For her to mesh in this environment almost right away, I knew she’d make it as a service dog,” Kerri said.
A year later, and after intense training by Kerri, the pair are working together beautifully. Sophie guides Kerri while she navigates her wheelchair and can press levers to open doors. The glossy black dog is a trusted friend who makes Kerri’s life easier every day, but that’s not all.
There’s even more to the bond Kerri and Sophie share. Miraculously, Sophie also has the innate ability to sense Kerri’s seizures before they strike and she alerts Kerri to keep her safer during the seizure. Only about 15% of dogs can do this. It’s yet another testament to the close bond the two share, yet another facet of Sophie’s service talents, and yet another reason SHELTER DOGS ROCK!
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