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Best friend in service: Program pairs people in need with service dogs

Above--Caleb Jacobs, 8, with his mother, Amee, at the Park Grove Branch Library with his service dog, Cooper, are allowed in the library under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Caleb holds onto Cooper with a handle. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner1 / 2
Patty Vanlandschoot socializes the puppies her dog, Hilde, has that will become service dogs. Hilde, on command, pushes the button to open the door for handicapped patrons at the Park Grove Branch Library. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 2

When Amee Jacobs lived in Nebraska three years ago, her son, Caleb, who has autism, was 5 years old. Looking for a service dog to help her son, she was disappointed to find that it would cost her and her husband, Robert, up to $25,000 and there could be a three-year waiting time.

She wanted a service dog to help keep Caleb calm and to corral him because he's likely to bolt in some situations that could lead him to run into a street or otherwise harm him, she said.

When she moved to Woodbury, however, the prospects changed when she was told to apply to Can Do Canines, a Minnesota organization that provides service dogs free of charge.

At first, Caleb was quite anxious about getting a dog, even one that could help him, said his mother. Children with autism need to have an orderly environment where they know what's coming next and most dog behavior isn't predictable.

But Cooper, a chocolate lab, was the right dog to help Caleb.

"Caleb is very impulsive and Cooper helps me keep track of him," Jacobs said in a recent interview.

At first, Caleb was tethered to Cooper. If he bolted, Cooper would stay put. Now, Caleb holds onto his dog with a handle and can't let go without permission from Amee or his therapist.

When Amee and Jacob, who is a student in the autism program at Grey Cloud Elementary School, were at the Park Grove Branch Library recently, Caleb wanted to let go of the handle to look at a book.

Service dogs, under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, can be taken into places where other dogs are not allowed, such as restaurants and stores.

"We go more places than we did before, even to church," Jacobs said, without worrying. "If people need a service dog, they should sign up, like yesterday."

Caleb and Cooper are best friends. In fact, Cooper is only allowed into Caleb's bedroom after he's fallen asleep. Otherwise, Jacobs said, Caleb would play with Cooper all night.

Caleb is just one example of how service dogs can help people, said Patty Vanlandschoot, of Cottage Grove, who's been a Can Do Canines volunteer for 10 years.

She raises puppies for the program. Her dog, Hildie, a black lab, was to have seven puppies this month. "My job is to socialize them," she said, before they are turned over to volunteer trainers.

Some trainers live in apartments because that's an environment where many potential clients live.

Many breeds of dogs can be trained as service dogs, according to Vanlandschoot, and dogs are donated by owners and some come from animal shelters.

Labs are good at retrieving items. She has an old cellphone, pencil and paper that Hilde retrieves on command.

Other dogs are more suited to helping people who are hearing impaired.

One client slept through the night for the first time after she got her dog because she no longer feared being caught in a fire, Vanlandschoot said.

People with seizures or diabetes can be helped with service dogs. In recent years, military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders have benefited from having service dogs.

"The dogs are taught to be calming," she said.

Vanlandschoot, who works as a physical therapist, said she got involved with Can Do Canines because she wants to give back to the community. "I also get my puppy fix," she said. "I know I'll be giving them up for training, but it gives me goosebumps to know that someone will be helped."

To donate money to Can Do Canine, call 763-331-3000 or go to the website at Volunteers are also needed and full training is provided.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600