By Jeff Dickinson
I have had three different service dogs over the past 25 years. My first service dog was a black Lab named Jake. Unbeknownst to me, my mother and a dog trainer she knew rescued Jake as an adult from a local shelter and began training him as a service dog for me. By the time I heard about Jake, his training was already well under way. I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about having a service dog, but since I had just started back to school at UNH, and just started using a manual wheelchair, I figured maybe I could use Jake’s help. Why not give it a try? Jake proved instrumental in my getting around campus as he was big enough to pull me in my wheelchair. We traveled many miles with me hanging onto Jake’s harness as he happily trotted us on our merry way. From Jake, I learned that having a service dog has benefits far beyond the physical. Having him with me quieted my anxiety, gave me needed self-confidence, and made it easier to meet people.
My next service dog was a yellow Lab named Peaches. She was given to me at 1 year old by a student at the high school where I worked at the time, after Jake passed away suddenly. Peaches remains the most touching gift I’ve ever received. My mom and I trained Peaches as a service dog ourselves with a little help from a local dog trainer. Peaches would pick things up for me, open doors, hit switches, bark for help, and even take my socks off! She went with me to work at Granite State Independent Living (GSIL) every day for ten years and became virtually an employee herself. There is a memorial to Peaches on the back patio of GSIL’s offices in Concord.
My current service dog is Aspen. She is a golden retriever who has been with me for three years now. I went a different route this time around, and rather than training a dog myself, I applied to receive a service dog through an amazing organization called Assistance Canine Training Services (A.C.T.S.) in North Conway, NH. (http://assistancecanine.org/index) A.C.T.S. raised and trained Aspen to do many tasks to assist me. She picks up dropped items and puts them on my lap, opens and closes doors, turns lights on and off, and she loves hitting the buttons for power doors when we are out and about. I think that’s her favorite! Aspen is my constant companion inside and outside the house. When I work at home she usually is at my side, and she goes with me whenever I go out to work or play. Whether we are at the office, the State House, the movie theater, or the supermarket, Aspen is always on point and ready to help. I love Aspen very much and feel fortunate to have her in my life.
Jeff Dickinson and Aspen live in Franklin. Jeff is the Advocacy Director at Granite State Independent Living, a state-wide non-profit organization that provides personal care and other services for seniors and people with disabilities who wish to remain independent in their homes and communities.