View Mobile Site

Service dog becomes her partner for life after lupus attack

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED December 14, 2009 3:14 a.m.

A 120-pound service dog named “Akai” was the center of attention at the Manteca Rotary noon luncheon earlier this month as its owner Alicia Yonemoto told her story of how the German Shepherd -  Japanese Akita mix first came to her aid.

She said she had been under extreme stress over the death of her husband and in losing the custody of two step children when her lupus attacked her legs.  Her doctor told her later that was a known effect of lupus activated by stress.

The French Camp woman, a commercial dog trainer for some 20 years who worked with the German border patrol in Berlin, said she isolated herself after the funeral, locked up her residence, and took a hot Epson Salt bath. That  tub of water that would hold her captive for three hours because her legs froze on her.

“Akai” was only about a year old then, and was in the living room of her home when she realized she was in trouble.  The dog had been taught the simple commands of sit, lie down and come, but nothing more.

She said she called him continually until he finally was able to get the bathroom door open and stand next to the bathtub.  It was over an hour after he got through the door that she was finally able to get out of the tub by holding him around the neck and telling him to sit.  It was a trial and error effort that finally produced enough leverage to get her over the edge and onto the floor where she lay covered with dog hair.

It was something of an epiphany for her realizing at that moment that she needed a service dog, and that she must train “Akai” to fill that role for her.  He has been at her side day and night for some eight years now and provides the legs she cannot use.  The dog can get her up and down stairs and actually break her fall if she were to try to stand and lose her balance.

Dogs have been
talking for centuries

She noted that some 25 years ago someone came up with the wonderful idea of having hearing dogs that alert the hearing impaired. Whether totally deaf or just hearing impaired, they alert them to things like smoke alarms, door bells, babies crying, stoves, and water running from a broken pipe.

“Dogs are amazing, and as a dog trainer we discovered that they have been around for centuries and they have been talking to us for centuries – we just haven’t been listening,” she said.  

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed that allows accessibility with service dogs.  “It doesn’t just mean allowing (just) me into your business, it also covers service dogs.  

“Akai” is a mobility assistance dog.  He falls under service animal,” she said.  “Obviously ‘Akai’ acts as my legs and gets me from point A to point B.  Without him I could do it, but I would be seriously limited in what I could do.  He also assists me to transfer from my chair to another surface and to stand and to get me down stairs in the case of an emergency – he can actually get me down stairs and upstairs too.”

She added that most service animal partners will not tell you about their physical disability. “As a business person you have been taught not to ask the handlers what is wrong with them.”

Sitting in her wheel chair, she said, “With me it’s kind of obvious, but I wasn’t always like this.”

She said “Akia” is much more than a dog.  Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act , service animals – those dogs who are domesticated animals that have been trained in tasks to mitigate disabilities for their handlers are protected and allowed accessibility.

They travel with their owners – that means by car, by plane, by taxi, by bus, and by boat.  The thing about service animals is they are protected – including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs and the newest frontier,  psychiatric service dogs (PSD).

These PSDs are the newest thing like autistic dogs.  The criteria under the Americans with Disabilities Act are an impairment that goes to a disability.  “With autism, with post traumatic syndrome, the dogs create a buffer between their partners and the world.  The dogs are taught to sit between the partner and the general public,” she said.

The trainer has to determine whether a 5-year-old autistic child can control the dog or is the dog controlling the child, said. “However, can a 30-year-old with traumatic stress syndrome control his dog?  Yes!

“That dog is going to make it so they can go out and they can interact with the public.  Maybe they can’t interact with them being within five feet of them, but if you stay outside the five feet radius, we’re fine.  In the case of having a flashback, the dogs are trained that should that partner become fixated or have smoke alarms or strobe lights that cause distractions, the dog reacts with his training and will pull his handler from that situation,” she said.  

Dogs can aid
autism victims

She explained that in the case of autism where victims often have a negative reaction, such as banging their heads or kicking, the dog is trained to react and prevent them from banging their heads and from kicking.  

“The question becomes can a small child with autism that has a service dog be considered a service dog partner.  That is something that the United States courts are trying right now,” she added. “Without a doubt the animal is definitely mitigating the disability, but we as a service dog community,  are concerned, because we have to be in control of the dog.”

She continued saying, a dog is a dog – he’s not a robot – he’s a living, breathing, thinking thing.  He is trained and dissuaded from biting which doesn’t mean that if he is pushed to a point of violence; he would react – as anyone here today would react if someone attacked their child.

“Even going back to the very pioneers of guide dogs, the dog doesn’t know how to get to the post office, the dog doesn’t know how to get to the doctor’s office, the dog doesn’t know how to get to the office – but, after a few trips, the dog is patterned.  You can say post office and he will then walk you there every time.”

She said that initially the handler was giving the commands of left, right and forward.  “Akai knows where the door is now and he can get me to the door.  Once he gets to the door, it’s left, right and forward – I have to make that decision,” she said.            

“Seventy-five years ago because of the guide dog standards, because of the way they act in public, because even though they’re under minimum protection, they will get me out of here in case there is a fire –get me up in the middle of the night, and get me out if I am in the building.

“That’s my protection.  The fact that he is 100 pounds and has 42 teeth – he is alive and thinking thing, and he does care about me, and would provide protection if someone tried to harm me,” she said.

She further explained that no two dogs are the same and no two recipients are the same as they do their best to make a good match between animal and handler.  

“I can tell you as business people when you encounter a service dog team, approach the handler and ask if that is a service dog.”  Some people are more disabled than others and you may ask what tasks he performs for you, she added.  

The majority of service dog partners realize they are all ambassadors as they go through their daily lives.  Those that came before us did the work to make the Americans with Disabilities Act a possibility, she said.

“We are international: Europe, Asia, Japan, India, and South Africa – they all recognize service dogs.  We no longer have to quarantine our dogs for six months to go to London.  Once they are tested they fly with us in the cabin to our destination,” she said. 

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...