Friday, October 17, 2008

Extraordinary Dogs: In The Line Of Duty


"Missti Lavallee of Erie, ND, had been a soldier in the U.S. Army Combat Military Police Corps for nearly a decade when she was injured in the line of duty and told she would never walk again. Not one to give up, Lavallee made the life-changing decision to bring home Lara, a 12-week-old blue heeler/shepherd mix, and train her as her therapy dog.

"In the first few months, Lara learned to assist her human by reminding her to take her medicine and fetching Lavallee’s husband when she needed his assistance. Lara even figured out—all on her own—how to test the temperature of Lavallee’s bath water. But the real turning point was when Lavallee lost circulation in her legs—so badly they were turning purple—and the shepherd mix climbed into bed and lay on her legs. 'Her breathing and her soft fur heated up my legs—slow enough not to cause more pain, but fast enough to relieve the pain I was in,' Lavallee recalls.

"Lara soon knew instinctively when Lavallee needed her legs warmed, and was right there to help. Little by little, as Lavallee’s circulation improved, Lara encouraged her mom to get out of her wheelchair and walk alongside her as they played hide-and-seek with her two daughters. 'Doing the "seeking" with Lara gave me motivation to get up and walk alongside her, no matter how hard it was or how much it hurt,' Lavallee tells us.

"This former soldier believes her amazing dog encouraged her to focus on her and the kids instead of on the pain. 'Lara did what four doctors in two countries could not—after about eight months, I began to walk!' Lavallee says. 'Let me say that again because it feels so good. Thanks to my blue heeler/shepherd mix, I can now walk!' That winter, for the first time in a long time, Lavallee was able to go outside and play with her two daughters.

"Lara’s assistance extends beyond the physical. She’s also a nanny! 'I don’t have to worry about the kids fighting with each other,' says Lavallee. 'Lara is quick to get between them and tell them to knock it off with one "Woof!" She’s tough! Being a female soldier, I learned that the words "I can't" and "No" are fighting words—and Lara helped me win the fight.' "

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