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Assistance Dogs Can Help Disabled Navigate Life


Many disabled people use assistance dogs, including guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and service dogs for the physically disabled. Mike O'Sullivan reports, in this Searching for Solutions report, a California trainer named Bonnie Bergin helped popularize the concept, which has spread around the world.

Disabled army veteran Doris Moffit gets help from a dog named Bubba. Since hurting her back 12 years ago, Moffit has been in a wheelchair, and Bubba is her companion.

In recent years, the disabled have been getting help from dogs like Bubba. For 80 years, dogs have guided the blind.

In Santa Rosa, California, the Assistance Dog Institute trains dogs as human helpers. Institute president Bonnie Bergin helped create the idea of the service dog in 1975, after spending time in Asia.

She saw disabled people use donkeys to help them move around and carry their belongings, and thought dogs could do the same.

"Everywhere I went, I was told it was a bad idea," she said.

She persisted and has trained hundreds of dogs to turn on lights, open refrigerators and perform other basic tasks for the disabled.

Bergin worked with a disabled woman named Kerry Knaus to show that dogs can be effective helpers.

"Kerry was in a power wheelchair and she was the most dynamic person I've ever met," Bergin said. "And so between the work that the dog did, that she did and that I did, we created this concept."

Training starts with three-and-a-half week-old puppies. At 12 weeks, the dogs know 90 commands, and before long, are providing help and security for their owners.

Doris Moffitt says having the dog makes her feel safer.

A dog can also be a close companion for the disabled.

"And this dog becomes their very, very best friend, not just a helpmate, but a partner, a friend and a helpmate combined, and it's magical. When you see it work, it's magical," Bergin said.

There are thousands of assistance dogs at work around the world, and Bergin says she hopes the practice continues to spread so that more disabled people can enjoy the companionship and help they need.

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