A salute to four-legged heroes and their owners.
As Americans raise their palms to salute present and past servicemen and women today, Ray Cyr, a World War Two air force veteran, will also thank Addison, his service dog that revolutionized his life two years ago when he was 81 years old.
“I don’t feel like I have a disability now,” Cyr told Zootoo Pet News in a phone interview, speaking from his Palm Beach, Fla., home. “I feel like I am a whole new person.”
It’s been a long journey for Cyr, who served in the air force for two years until his B-52 crashed in Alaska in 1945. Cyr spent nearly five months hospitalized and emerged “100 percent disabled,” he says, unable to walk and wheelchair-bound. He married, had three sons and started his own construction businesses – the only way he could hold a job was to be self-employed – but it was only once Addison, a two-year-old black Lab and Golden Retriever mix, came along that he started feeling like he wasn’t disabled.
“She does everything for me,” Cyr said. “She helps me walk, she acts as a calmer balance, she wakes me in the morning, she lets me know when someone is at the door, she turns on light switches for me, she picks up things I cannot reach.”
“I can walk with a cane now and don’t have to use the wheelchair anymore.”
Cyr and Addison were paired up through Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization based in Milton, Ga., that places 75 to 100 dogs with disabled people annually. It costs approximately $20,000 to train and then provide for service dogs, so Canine Assistants relies on private donations and company partnerships, such as with Milk Bone, to keep the organization running.
There are hosts of other organizations in the U.S. that pair service dogs with disabled people, and specifically only with disabled veterans, and Cyr tried his luck with many of them, he said, for more than 10 years after he met a paralyzed veteran who was aided by a service dog and became interested.
“I’ve been waiting to hear from an organization and finally I heard from Canine Assistants,” he explained. Canine Assistants has placed 1,000 dogs with disabled people since 1991.
After Cyr heard back from Canine Assistants, he and his wife, Virginia, attended a two-week educational program where a group of service dogs are brought in and allowed to choose their eventual owner.
“They give you one dog at a time and see how the dog reacts to you and how you react to the dog,” said Virginia Cyr. “Addison came to him and they seemed to be just attached from the second they met, and it’s been like that since. She’s a guardian angel.”
Addison was trained for two years before Canine Assistants made her eligible to be paired with an owner. The training is more than evident and she fills her role completely, he and his wife say.
“When she has that harness and vest on that says ‘do not pet me I am working,’ she is a total service dog,” said Virginia Cyr.
But once she vest comes off, Addison is a regular dog and loves to run around and romp in the open acreage that the Cyr’s have.
“It’s important for her to be like a regular dog, too, and to just have a good time,” said Virginia Cyr. “She deserves it.”
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