- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2000

Jellybean takes out the trash and carries Tricia Gallalee's shopping bags. He will pick up Miss Gallalee's dropped keys, make sure she doesn't slip on the ice and help her take her coat off. Every year, they run together in the Race For The Cure.

Jellybean isn't an attentive boyfriend. He's not even a well-mannered butler. Jellybean is a 95-pound black Labrador retriever, specially trained to aid Miss Gallalee, 36, who has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering from a rare form of spinal cancer as a child.

"I have a lot of confidence in going anywhere with Jellybean," says Miss Gallalee of Rockville. "We're a team. There are things I cannot do by myself, but there are so many things that together, we can get it done."

Jellybean, or "J.B.," as Miss Gallalee calls him, is part of a new service corps animals that are used for assistance or therapeutic purposes. For centuries, animals have helped people pull plows and wagons, and for decades they have aided the blind as seeing-eye dogs. However, it is a relatively new wave that has dogs as the legs and ears for people with disabilities.

"We have trained dogs to open the refrigerator door, to gather the laundry, to pull a wheelchair up a curb," says Debbie Gavelek, executive director of Fidos for Freedom, the Laurel-based nonprofit group that trained Miss Gallalee's dog.

The true service goes beyond household chores.

"I think the people who want a service dog think they understand what the bond is going to be, but they really don't understand until they get involved with the dog," Mrs. Gavelek says. "The bond is unconditional. Dogs don't care if it is the middle of the night, they will help you. That means an awful lot."

At your service

By the time a service dog and an owner become a team, they have undergone extensive training. At Fidos for Freedom, for instance, the dogs are donated by breeders or from rescue groups. Since the dog will be everywhere that people are the mall, airports, workplaces, for instance a calm temperament is a must, Mrs. Gavelek says.

"We're not necessarily looking for a dog that is going to be a good pet," she says. "We are looking for a dog who needs a job. He has to be unflappable"

Fidos for Freedom has placed 32 dogs since it was founded in 1987. The dogs are trained by volunteers, and the costs to the potential dog owner is a $10 registration fee and a $150 donation.

"I do not want cost to prohibit someone from getting a dog," Mrs. Gavelek says.

In addition to service dogs who have helped those with a variety of physical disabilities, Fidos for Freedom also trains dogs to assist the deaf or hard of hearing. Those dogs respond to sounds in the person's environment, such as a doorbell or a phone ringing or a baby crying.

"I have one hearing dog that tells her owner when water on the stove is boiling," Mrs. Gavelek says. "They are trained to pick up things their owner may drop. One client was in a department store and dropped her credit card. The client wouldn't have heard it fall."

Under the guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act, service dogs can go anywhere. Jellybean has traveled for business and pleasure with Miss Gallalee, a training consultant at Fannie Mae. On the airplane, he lies calmly on the floor in front of her.

"The worst thing I can do is leave him home," she says. "He is not happy unless he is working."

Horses and healing

Astride a horse, Heather Henry is walking tall and strong.

On the ground, it is not so easy for Miss Henry, 18, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Miss Henry can walk with assistance but also uses a wheelchair. For 15 years now, she has been riding at the Therapeutic Riding and Recreation Center in Glenwood, Md., as part of her physical therapy.

"When Heather first started riding, she was unable to sit up or to use both hands," says her father, Richard Henry of Poolesville. "Riding has improved her whole life. She has had a tough life as it is, but riding gives her a good sense of herself. It evens things out. She is doing something that the other kids at school do."

Accompanied by a physical therapist and a riding instructor, Miss Henry mounts the horse from a special platform. A safety harness keeps her from falling off the horse. She does not use a saddle. Instead, she sits on a soft blanket, which is a better way to connect with the movement of the animal.

"A horse's walk is identical to a human's," says Helen Tuel, director of the Therapeutic Riding and Recreation Center. "For a child who does not walk, it is a big deal to feel symmetrical movement when you are asymmetrical."

The Therapeutic Riding and Recreation Center is one of about 650 equine therapy programs that are members of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, a national organization that offers accreditation to riding centers. Therapeutic riding is beneficial for those with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and paralysis, as well as social and emotional problems, such as autism or Down syndrome.

About 300 children a week take lessons and undergo therapy at Ms. Tuel's farm.

"Sometimes we see a dramatic change," Ms. Tuel says. "Sometimes the changes we see are more subtle. There is nothing you can do that can move every muscle in your body like a horse can. But it is also the confidence we see that carries over into daily living. The kids think, 'I can't control my body, but I can control this 1,500-pound animal.' "

Healthy companions

Volunteers from organizations such as Fidos for Freedom and Pets on Wheels take their dogs to nursing homes and hospitals. The pet owners say their pets have made them so happy, they know others will be happy, too.

"It is quite amazing what happens when the pets come around once a week," says Diane Gibson, activities director at Cherry Lane Nursing Center in Laurel. "Our residents really light up. It make them reminisce, to think back to times when they were younger. Petting a pet really provides sensory stimulation, too."

The pets can make those seniors healthier, too.

A 1992 Australian study stated that pet owners are less likely than people without pets to develop heart disease. A 1980 Brooklyn College study said pet owners who have heart attacks live longer than heart attack victims who do not have pets.

Studies at University of California at Davis and UCLA showed that pet owners of all ages went to the doctor less often and felt more secure than those who had no pets.

Finally, nursing homes in New York, Missouri and Texas reported that when they brought animals and plants into their environments, patient death rates dropped by 40 percent and the need for medication decreased from $3.80 to $1.18 per patient.

"People in nursing homes get very little choice," Mrs. Gavelek says. "With the dogs, at least they have the choice of which dog they want to pet. It doesn't matter what you look like, a dog will give you unconditional love. They will make eye contact, and patients who don't often smile, do. People who don't want to move with the physical therapist will play catch with a dog. When we visit, a dog can be placed in bed with the person. He'll put his head on their chest and give kisses. How can you not feel special then?"

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