While doing my daily research rounds, I found another article about a golden retriever service dog. Meet 9-year-old Garrison.
He opens the dishwasher, presses the elevator button, and picks up shoes.
Garrison has helped Elena Berger remain independent despite a neurological disease that’s left her with weak muscles and in a wheelchair.
Elana tells lohud.com:
“I don’t know what I would have done without him,” said Berger of New Rochelle. “I think he’s really a sense of security for me. You can see, I’m holding onto him all the time.”
Garrison is a 9-year-old golden retriever, a service dog trained by Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). The non-profit based in Winchester, Connecticut has placed more than 300 dogs since 1995 in multiple states across the country to assist people with physical and mental disabilities.
Currently, Berger is one of seven Westchester residents paired with service dogs from ECAD. But the shortage of these dogs is creating a backlog of need, including in Westchester and Rockland counties where six residents have applied for help. Across the country, approximately 130 people are awaiting a dog, according to the organization.
“You cannot overstate the difference a service dog will make in the life of person,” said Patricia Robert, a spokeswoman for ECAD.
One Smart Dog
Garrison is trained to respond to more than 80 commands, Berger said. He turns on lights, tugs on strings to open the refrigerator, and carries out the recycling. But in many ways, he’s still a typical dog.
“If I ask him to take a hamburger off the table, he might take one bite,” Berger said. “I might not get that all. He goes out and gets me the paper. Sometimes, it doesn’t come back all the way intact.”
Berger has been able to lean on Garrison physically and emotionally for the past five years. He’s been a big support since she had to retire from her job as an investment banker a couple years ago when it became too difficult to continue working.
“I don’t have to ask somebody else to do something,” she said. “I can ask him … So, in a way it gives you independence that you wouldn’t have. I feel like I can go out confidently without a person with me.”
Garrison accompanies her everywhere, including on the train to doctor’s appointments in New York City.
During a recent visit to The Journal News offices in White Plains, Berger told Garrison to “tug”. He pulled on her sweater sleeve with his mouth, showing how he can help remove clothing items.
Training a Service Dog
Training of the service dogs isn’t cheap. A dog costs $25,000 to train, with clients contributing $500 as a commitment fee. The rest comes from fundraising. Before being placed with clients, the dogs go through 18 to 24 months of training. They then train for a couple weeks with the client.
“I was obviously down,” she recalls. “So, I thought a dog would cheer me up emotionally and I didn’t realize the dog could do different things. “
One time Berger claimed she was stuck in a snowbank as she was trying to cross the street in New York City and “Garrison pulled me out”.
She hopes sharing her story will prompt people to donate to the organization.
Berger told lohud:
“There is such a shortage of these service dogs,” Berger said. “And as you can tell, they’re very, very expensive to train. It takes a lot of time. And I think they could really, really benefit by having more donations, more funding, so they could produce more service dogs.”