My vision included a team of a human caregiver and a specially trained Alzheimer's assistance dog, working together to insure the best possible care for the patient at home. I had no idea what the dog’s job was. Caregivers I interviewed had too many ideas. I did know the dog’s task must have a sound associated with it which could be duplicated for training purposes. What did caregivers need help with that made a specific sound a dog could be trained to identify? Perhaps listen for the patient's feet to hit the floor creating a potential wandering situation? Statistics said that 70% of Alzheimer's patients will eventually wander--a real problem. I decided that a trained dog would listen for the patient's feet to hit the floor and when that sound occurred the dog would immediately "self-start" and alert the caregiver to the potential wandering situation. The dog could help the caregiver get a good night’s sleep. The caregiver would not have the entire responsibility of monitoring the patient’s night time activities. The dog would help make sure the patient was not "in trouble.”
I foresaw three pitfalls. One--no one had ever asked a dog to work for more than one person (one blind person and one dog) and I would be asking the dog to work for two people simultaneously; one caregiver and one patient. Secondly--Alzheimer’s dog would have to be a "self-starting" dog knowing exactly when to work and when not too--without a human verbal command. Thirdly-- the dog would have to work within the environment of dementia. Dementia is not easy for a person to cope with let alone a canine that by nature clues into more stimuli than a person.
I was having serious doubts when I received a call from a friend who had found a young, injured female mutt. She had taken the dog in and it was recovering nicely--even showing signs of trusting people. I tested the dog and was thrilled that it excelled in each stage of testing. What really impressed me was the fact that with everything the dog had been through she was still willing to please me, a stranger. Without hesitation I decided this canine would be the prototype. Her foster mom named her Tootsie. She sailed through training to becoming the first successful Alzheimer’s assistance dog. In retrospect I marveled that previous to meeting and testing this dog I felt that it might be impossible to find a dog with all of the pre-requisites required to make it through Alzheimer’s training. In life, timing is everything. Not only did I have a caregiver and patient needing a trained dog but now (almost dropped into my lap) was a deserving dog who also needed her own family. How awesome was God’s timing!
Do you know someone who has Alzheimer's and could use an assistance dog? Or are you a caregiver and you'd like to learn more about Alzheimer's Assistance Dogs and how you, the patient, and the dog can work together as a team?