Erik is a 21-year-old young man who loves to ride his bike, swim, listen to music and go to the mall.

Article 402: Assistance Dog Makes World More Friendly (imageid1)

Erik, Tiffany and Nutmeg

However, Erik’s many health-related challenges make a typical day in his life more anxiety-inducing than fun. Erik has Down syndrome and autism, among many other medical diagnoses. His mother and stepfather love and support him endlessly, but sometimes he needs something else – something no person can give. That is where Nutmeg comes in.

Nutmeg IV is an assistance dog, provided free of charge, from Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. Nutmeg is trained in about 40 commands, but she benefits Erik most with her calm, affectionate demeanor, her slow, relaxed pace and her unconditional love and devotion to her human partner.

“When Erik was a baby and he was diagnosed with the first of many disabilities, it was very, very difficult,” explains Tiffany, Erik’s mother. “It’s like a weighted scale, and you feel like you live with so much grief and so much sadness. It recurs throughout your kids’ lives when they are not invited to birthday parties, or kids don’t socialize with them and play with them. One of the beauties of going through that difficulty and that sadness is the gift that’s on the other side of it. Only when you walk down that road and experience that sadness can you understand some of the beauties and joys and incredible things that we get to walk through as these parents!” Tiffany considers seeing Nutmeg’s impact on Erik one of those great joys.

“Erik’s assistance dog has changed his life in so many ways,” says Tiffany. “The enhancement has been extreme and beyond our wildest imaginations!” Erik’s parents applied for an assistance dog in hopes that she would make the world a little more gentle, safe and friendly for Erik.

“He is so often in the hospital and at doctors’ offices,” explains Tiffany. “To a doctor, the procedure may take 20 minutes. To Erik, it takes a day to gear up and three or four days to get over the trauma of it.” Erik is non-verbal, plus he does not understand why he needs the medical appointments. Nutmeg makes them a little easier. “When Erik’s in the hospital, Nutmeg cuddles with him while keeping her eye on who enters the room and comes near him,” explains Tiffany. “Their time together in the hospital has cemented their bond so strongly!” An added benefit is that the demeanor of hospital staff seems to lighten when they interact with Nutmeg, which makes the experience better for all involved.

“What amazes me most about Nutmeg are the unexpected things she does everyday,” Tiffany continues. “She is patient with Erik while he processes language to give her commands. It takes him a moment to tell her it’s okay to begin eating or to jump in the car, and she will sit and wait. Erik has never slept through the night. Nutmeg keeps him company and helps his restlessness.”

Not only has Nutmeg benefitted Erik, but she has benefitted his parents, as well. “I wanted Erik to feel more comfort and compassion and experience a safer world with Nutmeg. That extends to Tom and I as parents, knowing Erik is getting that from Nutmeg,” says Tiffany.

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Contributed by

Barbara Barrow

Canine Companions for Independence
Chief Development Officer
Barbara Barrow is the chief development officer of Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly …

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