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Local organizations celebrate National Service Dog Month

Photo Courtesy of Eyes Ears Nose & Paws.

National Service Dog Month, which occurs during the month of September, is a time to educate the community about the benefits of service dogs and the laws protecting them, according to an Aug. 31 proclamation from Gov. Roy Cooper.

19 states, including North Carolina, officially dedicate September to service dogs.

Service dogs are trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are 10 common types of service dogs, including those that help individuals with hearing impairments, seizure disorders and autism. 

Laura Ruel, an associate professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said her diabetic alert dog Trula saved her life twice. Trula can detect when Ruel’s blood sugar drops below a certain level. 

“There’s not another human I could be around that could smell my blood sugar getting low and giving me that warning,” she said. 

Last year, Ruel had a transplant operation and is no longer diabetic, making Trula eligible for early retirement. The transition from service dog to pet has been hard for Trula, but Ruel said she’s learning. 

For Ruel, honoring service dogs this month is not just an amazing thing to do, but important. 

“It’s recognizing the incredible things they do for us without even asking anything from us,” she said. 

Ka’ea Waldrop’s daughter, Asher, has had her medical alert service golden retriever, Gatsby, for over a year to help with chronic pain. The pain has led to fainting episodes, but having Gatsby has greatly improved Asher’s health. 

“Now with Gatsby, because he’s able to sense it coming on, and with him doing deep pressure therapy across her lap, she almost doesn’t pass out at all anymore,” Waldrop said.

If Asher is in pain, she can tell Gatsby to get help, which prompts him to search for Waldrop and alert her. He also brings Waldrop medicine if she asks for it. 

“Having him around takes a lot of stress off me having to remember everything,” she said. 

Individuals with disabilities have the right to train their service dogs themselves, although training classes are available, according to the ADA.

In 2022, Waldrop attended a two-week-long client training seminar for Gatsby through Eyes Ears Nose and Paws — a nonprofit organization in Hillsborough whose mission is to partner people with dogs to improve their lives. The dogs are trained by volunteers and incarcerated men who are part of the program, At Both Ends of the Leash (ABEL). 

Maria Ikenberry, the executive director of Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, said clients learn to work with dogs during the training.

“We start out just doing a lot of practices in the facility, and then over the course of the two weeks, we start then going out into public settings and doing practices out in public, on the bus, in restaurants, movie theaters, all kinds of places,” she said.

Ikenberry said that a better awareness of the importance of service dogs from the general public could help the dogs and their owners gain respect and understanding in their day-to-day lives.

“There’s a lot of people who could benefit from a partnership who don’t even realize it was an option for them, particularly in the case of people who have rare diseases,” Ikenberry said. 

Student organization Puppies at Carolina trains, advocates for and fundraises for local service dog organizations, such as Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, Guiding Eyes for the Blind and CrisisDogsNC. 

Sophomore Zoe Maready, the club’s social media manager, said that service dogs aren't given enough recognition. 

“They’re very hard workers and they have very important jobs,” Maready said. “But it’s also important that we give back to that community.”

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People can take the time to honor service dogs this month by volunteering or donating to local service dog organizations. 


@dthlifestyle |

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