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Canine Companions service dogs helping their humans through pandemic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In these uncertain times, many of us look to our four-legged helpers for stability and companionship. For those who rely on service dogs, the animals can bring an added level of comfort during the pandemic

At St. Augustine Rehab Specialists, 3-year old Harley has big responsibilities. Every day, Harley works to make life easier for those living with Parkinson's Disease. A major part of his job is to help patients with their physical therapy, but the personal impact he has is just as important. Especially during this pandemic.

“He immediately clears their mind,” Lomaglio said. “They’re not thinking about coronavirus when they walk through the door. They’re thinking, ‘oh, there’s Harley!’”

Canine Companions is the largest provider of assistance dogs in the world and all follow-up support is provided free of charge to recipients.
Canine Companions is the largest provider of assistance dogs in the world and all follow-up support is provided free of charge to recipients. (WJXT Channel 4)

Harley and his human, physical therapist Melanie Lomaglio, were matched through Canine Companions for Independence a year ago. They've gotten close in that time. In many ways, he's gotten close with her patients, too.

"Parkinson's causes what we call non-motor symptoms which is depression, anxiety, and apathy," Lomaglio said. "So, when something like coronavirus comes along, all of those things are exacerbated."

Lomaglio says Harley's ability to connect with patients can ease their symptoms.

"Harley, just by his nature, is able to reduce some of those things," Lomaglio said.

Despite the virus, CCI is working to make more success stories. Normally Robyn Bush would train McCall at the training center near her home in Orlando. Instead, she works from home to get him ready for his future human.

"We get to see kind of their pet side, like what they're like at home," Bush said. "Just gathering so much information about their personality and their temperament."

McCall is adapting well, too. When things finally do return to normal, those in need of a service dog can feel confident in knowing some are ready to help now, and others are well on their way.

Robyn Bush told News4Jax more than 400 people nationwide are currently waiting for their service dogs through CCI. To learn more about the group and its mission, click here.


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