Service Dog Makes Remarkable Difference for New Owner

By: Nathan Grant

Koda, a 5-year-old pit bull, went from being a shelter dog to being a life-changing sidekick.

He is one of the hundreds of thousands of pit bull mixes entered into shelters each year. For Koda, life was off to a rough start – until a special program changed things forever.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

While Koda was waiting to be adopted at the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton, New York, the Animal Farm Foundation noted that he would be a great candidate for the Assistance Dog Program. This program takes qualified pit bulls from shelters and gives them the necessary training to become service dogs.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

“All dogs are individuals, and while some tend to prefer staying cozy on the couch all day as a family pet, others have the right characteristics to perform service work,” Bernice Clifford, director of behavior and training at AFF, told The Dodo. “In Koda’s case, he had a great personality, was very comfortable with being around other dogs and people and had the desire and energy to do the work.”

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Koda began his life at a farm and enjoyed roaming around with the cows. Unfortunately, the landlord did not enjoy the animals mingling and demanded that Koda be rehomed. When a new home was found, animal control checked up on the new owners – and it turned out they had been convicted of animal cruelty in the past. Koda was taken out of the home and was placed in a shelter.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Koda spent a year training for basic obedience and understanding environments to be experienced with his handler (for instance, grocery stores, airports, plans, or public transportation). He learned about how to respond to seizures, how to pick up dropped items, and how to call for help when needed.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Once he completed his training, Koda was paired with a handler that matched him perfectly – Fiona Gilbert, and exercise physiologist from San Francisco, California.

As a sufferer of multiple sclerosis, or MS, Filber experiences a number of symptoms on a daily basis. When she saw a documentary about a woman with the same diagnosis utilizing a service dog, she felt inspired to try the same.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Gilbert applied for a service pit bull in 2014, and has waited three years to be paired – an average waiting period for a service dog, according to Gilbert.

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

“It was my husband who first said, ‘What you need is a pit bull service dog,’ and I remember saying, ‘Don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing,’” Gilbert said. “And here I am with an ultra-amazing pit bull service dog.”

“It’s not often that you see a movement therapist needing a service dog to help them move and do their job,” Gilbert expplained. “I travel a lot for work and my job is physically demanding.”

Gilbert works with patients suffering from neurological disorders, much like herself. Her job can leave her exhausted. With Koda, Gilbert is able to use less of her body strength to work, allowing her to better focus on the task at hand – helping her clients!

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

“Koda braces me when I do [flexibility training] work on my clients so I am not so tired at the end of the day,” Gilbert said. “I’m able to do things like make dinner and have a conversation with my husband without falling asleep on the couch or into my soup.”

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Before Koda came into her life, daily tasks such as walking could be extremely difficult. “Walking is one of the trickiest [and most tiring] things to do when you have a neurological disorder,” she said. “With Koda, I can trust him to make sure that I am safe and walking well, so I don’t need as much energy to walk.”

The exhaustion Gilbert felt from her job caused difficulty managing her MS.

“When I get exhausted, my symptoms flare,” Gilbert said. “Travel became difficult. I look healthy, but I can’t form words, so I would appear to be drunk and sometimes denied boarding a plane. Having Koda means I am not as tired and my invisible disability becomes visible.”

While Koda is a hardworker, he also enjoys his free time. He loves basking in the sun…


Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Playing with squeaky toys…

And having snacks!

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

The relationship between Gilbert and Koda helps to tear down negative stereotypes about pit bulls.

“I’d never owned a pit bull before Koda, but I was familiar with their public image and thought it was unfair to sideline an entire breed,” Gilbert said. “Seeing us work, people have been learning about dogs as individuals.”

“Koda has had quite the roller coaster in life and so have I,” Gilbert said. “But being a pit bull or a person who has a diagnosis handed to them or a crappy history doesn’t define who they are. It is what they do with it, it is how we respond back to the world that defines us.”

Image Credit: Fiona Gilbert

Source: The Dodo


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