Canine Companions

Andrea Rooney and Andrea Rooney

While it is common practice to refer to a dog as man’s best friend, describing a disciplined service animal as simply a pet or buddy would certainly be an understatement.

The Fall 2008 Diversity Dialogues lecture series began Wednesday with the lecture “Transforming Lives Through Canine Companions.” The powerful and educational topic of service dogs assisting individuals on campus featured a panel of one faculty member and two students who have enlisted the support of service animals who help them in become more independent.

Greeted by an engaged and respectful audience of about forty students and community members, the panel began with a detailed narrative from Jenn Mueller. Mueller is an online student support specialist who wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the remarkable dedication of her dog, Jae. After years of various attempts to control her type I diabetes, Mueller faced a life-threatening challenge when she developed hypoglycemia unawareness. The condition results in not receiving body signals when blood sugar reaches dangerous levels, such as shaking knees and lightheadedness. “It was terrifying to live that way,” explained Mueller, recalling the constant anxiety of not knowing what her blood sugar level was.

Despite an enormous commitment of training and caring for a service dog Mueller was more than grateful for Jae’s presence after the second day. Disoriented in the middle of the night from dangerously low blood sugar, and unable to find her medication, Mueller was kept awake by the constant licking of her new dog. Jae was trying to alert her owner that she smelled the enzymes that are released when a person has low blood sugar. “If I would’ve gone back to sleep, I would have died. And she would not let me go back to sleep,” said Mueller. Without Jae’s help, Mueller’s diabetes would be a much greater threat.

Mueller’s speech was followed by the story of Jamie Plemons, a sociology student suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia. Her Rottweiler, Marley, has allowed Plemons to manage her anxiety, and feel accompanied and protected. “Those types of things have helped me to start to live my life again,” Plemons said. She went on to describe the reliefs and comforts that Marley provides.

The audience also heard the story of Jonathan Luong, a visually impaired sociology major. His seeing eye dog, Bosley, allows him to successfully navigate campus despite his congenital glaucoma. “Bosley has helped me travel more safely in life,” said Luong. “I can walk around holding my head high with confidence … with him I can travel anywhere, and I don’t have to limit myself.”

All three panelists spoke with integrity, poise, and even a bit of humor. Their speeches were very well received, evident by the nodding heads, genuine laughter, and generous applause of the audience. The desire to educate the community on the importance of service animals was unanimous amongst the panelists, and all three expressed a hope that the information they shared would be spread to others.

They emphasized that service dogs are always working when they are wearing their vests or harnesses, so it is important to not pet or feed them. Even a minor distraction could cause the canine to miss something, and compromise the well being of their owner.

The next lecture in the Diversity Dialogues series is entitled “Honoring Military Communities in a Time of War,” and will take place from 2:15-3:45 p.m. on Nov. 12 in room 211 of the Administration Building on East Campus.