Dog finds purpose in serving disabled

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2001


PHOTO: SPUD PRACTICES HANDING KEYS TO GEORGIA BURNS. Though now a service dog who provides Burns with constant aid, Spud was once a homeless animal living on the streets. After being rescued by the St. John SPCA, Spud was trained to assist Burns in her daily living. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) KENNER – A LaPlace dog has gone from rags to riches. Once a homeless animal roaming the streets, “Spud” went from having an ingrown collar and heart worms to not only finding a loving home, but getting himself a career in public service. His life is now full of purpose, and he provides a local disabled woman with love, devotion and helping hands, or pawsfour of them, that is. The Riverlands organization Some People Care About Animals (SPCA) rescued Spud when he was a puppy living on the LaPlace streets, and they brought him to local veterinarian, Dr. Philip Thiac of LaPlace Veterinary Hospital, where Thiac was able to put the hurt animal back together. The medium-sized lab mix was adopted out, but was twice returned, said Sabine Carender of the SPCA. She said that when he was returned, those who had adopted him would say that he was a nice dog, but too much dog for them. The SPCA, which is devoted to saving the lives of animals, then decided it was time to get Spud into shape, to send him to a dog trainer. Mary Ivy of Ivy Dog League, Inc., took the animal into her training program. Ivy, who began training dogs when she was just a child, worked with Spud for months. She said she began working with dogs when she was a kid living in the country. When dogs were either dumped or abandoned, her mother made it Ivy’s job to train them and adopt them out. She has now made dog training a career, and Spud is one of her star pupils. After three weeks, Spud was already beginning to show improvements, said Carender. Ivy said she was very proud of him. After attempting to adopt the animal out by taking him to shops like PetSmart, the SPCA had no luck. That’s when the idea to turn him into a service dog evolved. “A woman named Ms. Burns had a service dog named Snow that had to be put down. I hadn’t even thought of turning Spud into a service dog, but I was cleaning out Snow’s cage, and Spud was sitting there,” said Ivy. She said Spud kept looking at her, thumping her with his tail, and when she turned around, he had Snow’s chew toy in his mouth. “It was like he was asking Why not me?.’ I said, Why not you, Spud?,'” said Ivy. “And he’s been given another chance and a career.” Ivy gets her service dogs from the pound or the SPCA and keeps them in foster care until they are around 18 months old, after they have gotten past the puppy stage. She trains the dogs for about six months, and after the service dog moves in with its owner, Ivy visits the team every weekend for three to six months to work with the two together. “There’s plenty of good dogs out there. The dogs need another chance, and the people need a dog. We meet both needs at once,” said Ivy. Burns, who lives in Kenner, is a severe diabetic. She lost her kidney to cancer in 1997, and she has 50 percent nerve damage in her right leg. She also has blackouts when the pain becomes unmanageable. Spud helps Burns by pulling her wheelchair, opening doors and the refrigerator for her, helping her with items that have fallen, and “being her arms and legs,” said Ivy. Spud just moved in with Burns a little over a week ago, and they are getting to know one another. In six months, Ivy will finish training the dog and he will get his service papers. He’ll also get an ID tag and a bright orange leash to let everyone know he is a service dog. He will be allowed in public places, like restaurants and stores. According to Burns, Snow used to let her know when a blackout was going to happen. She said he could sense it. He’d get on her and hold her down so that she could not get up. She would lay down, then wake up about two hours later. She is hoping that Spud will be able to sense when she is going to black out, as well. Spud stands before Burns when she is getting up to brace her. He will also be able to run for help if she falls. Burns has already fallen in love with her new dog. “He’s really a good natured, loveable dog,” she said. Carender is very pleased with Ivy’s work. She said that people forget about animal issues and say that people issues are more important. “Animals help people,” she said. She added that the SPCA is happy that they have a trainer that helps them with problem dogs. She said that the SPCA always tries to find the right home for their dogs. “Spud was a homeless hound, and now look at him,” she said. The SPCA is always looking for volunteers in the area. They meet the first Sunday of each month at 1 p.m. at Come Back Inn in LaPlace.