City of Clovis celebrates International Assistance Dog Week

Edward Crane shaking hands with Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen. [Photo contributed by Edward Crane]

By Jeanine Fiser | Reporter

The second week of August is going to the dogs.

International Assistance Dog Week, which runs from Aug. 7-13, is set to recognize canine companions around the globe that are more than just loveable, furry friends.

The Clovis City Council decreed an official proclamation in honor of the dogs, which restore normalcy to owners, and presented the order to Edward Crane, president of My Assistance Dog Inc., and his assistance dog, Alepo, a nine-year-old cream Labrador retriever, at the council’s July 18 meeting.

“Assistance dogs changed my life,” Crane said. “This coming week is really, primarily recognizing the wonderful work that the dogs do.”

A friend first introduced Crane to the concept of assistance dogs after he was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 35. During that time Crane was working but suffered from occasional seizures. Crane sought help from Canine Partners for Life and was teamed up with Charity, a black Labrador retriever.

“When I first went in to meet with the dog, about 20 minutes into my session the dog came over and rubbed its head on my knees, and the people in the session said, ‘Ed you’re going to have to lay down on the mat, you’ve just been warned that a seizure is going to occur,’” Crane said. “I laid down and, the bottom line was, I had a seizure. That was the first time in my life that I ever had a warning of a seizure.”

Crane said that he has not suffered an injury from a seizure in the time since he began working with an assistance dog. After his first dog Charity passed away, he was paired with Alepo who can also warn of seizures.

Canine partners can be trained to serve people with a broad spectrum of disabilities, and Crane said Labradors are a common breed for their intelligence, reliability and loyalty. Alepo is constantly in training to develop new means of assistance, but was first taught to detect seizures using his sense of smell.

“They ask the individual, like myself, to provide a garment they were wearing when they had a seizure,” Crane said. “My canine partner, Alepo, will be able to sense the smell that I emit before I can even feel a seizure occurring.”

When Crane does begin to experience a seizure he says Alepo provides steadfast service.

“He’ll come over and rub his head on my knees, that’s his warning sign to me, and he expects me to lie down wherever we are immediately, and if I don’t he’ll bump my leg with his body telling me, ‘Ed I want you to lie down now,’” Crane said. “When I lay down, he will come over to me, put his paws across my knees and he will ride the seizure out with me. He won’t let me get up until he declares the seizure is over.”

Crane said Alepo has opened his world, allowing him independence and security. After realizing the powerful impact of assistance dogs on his own life, Crane wanted to do outreach and help other people benefit from canine partners.

“I wanted to be able to reach out and not only educate people, but help people connect with an assistance dog,” Crane said. “I spoke to close friends about forming a nonprofit organization to educate people about assistance dogs and at the same time bring resources together to assist people. We did that four years ago and the organization is called My Assistance Dog Incorporated.”

Crane said the organization provides information to people looking for dogs or a reputable training organization, often answering 12-24 inquiries a day. He said they share stories within the community, tips for care and benefits like free veterinary care and deals on food.

“An assistance dog can truly change a person’s life and that’s the only reason we formed the organization My Assistance Dog Inc.,” Crane said. “We are all volunteers, we do a lot. But we do a lot because we know every person we help, it’s going to make a difference.”

There are instances of assistance dogs changing lives across the country. Marguerite Maddox of Michigan lives with hearing impairment and cerebral palsy. She has been partnered with assistance dog Jello for eight years.

“Jello alerts me to sounds; fire alarms, clocks, timers, someone walking behind me,” Maddox said. “She can alert me to someone hiding behind bushes or when someone knocks on the door. She can also open doors and pick up things I drop.”

Maddox said Jello has saved her in more ways than one.

“I’m a sound sleeper and without my aides waking me up it was like a nightmare, I could not hear when sounds would go off,” Maddox said. “Now in the past eight and a half years, Jello made my life safer in a couple of ways. A couple of years back Jello alerted me that my neighbors apartment was filled with smoke.”

Maddox said assistance dogs are incredibly loyal and highly trained, but it is important for the public to know that these dogs are working. It is important to let the dogs keep their focus by not distracting them with calls or whistles.

There is also a lack of knowledge among business owners of American Disability Act laws, Maddox says. She would like to see restaurant and shop owners be more welcoming of her and Jello and not so scrutinizing.

Shannon Tomlinson, a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, was also paired with an assistance dog through Canine Partners for Life. Tomlinson said she was partnered with Clover, a yellow Labrador, five years ago.

“Her main function is cardiac alert,” Tomlinson said. “She can alert me to drops in blood pressure about three to five minutes before I would faint. Since I got her I have not fallen at all, when, before I got the dog, falling was a problem.”

Tomlinson said Clover also helps her retrieve things so she does not have to stand up quickly or bend over, which can be harmful. With Clover’s help, Tomlinson can live on her own and was able to complete a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and is now working on her doctorate. Tomlinson was also able to travel to Italy this summer with Clover by her side.

“Travelling to Italy was the first time I’ve taken Clover on a plane and she did great,” Tomlinson said. “It was both our first time out of the country, but will be doing it again this year – we’re going to Copenhagen. I’m a Ph.D. student, so academic conferences will take me all over the place and Clover will always be there.”

The exemplary work that assistance dogs do every day is exactly what Crane hoped to call attention to by increasing awareness of International Assistance Dog Week. So far, Crane received recognition from the City of Clovis and expected Fresno’s city leaders to do the same. Crane said this was the first year he attempted to get states to recognize the week.

“I wrote to all 50 governors in the United States requesting a proclamation,” Crane said. “I’ve gotten back 10 proclamations from across the country.”

Crane said despite getting recognition from a number of states, he has failed to capture the support of California’s state government.

“I would love to get the governor to change, I would fly down to the state capitol to see that change,” Crane said.

Crane attributes the difficulty of getting the governor to support International Assistance Dog Week to California’s process for approving proclamations.

“California is the only state in the country where you do not request a proclamation from the governor to the governor,” he said. “You make it to one of the committees under the governor, and that committee has to accept what you’re requesting and then it goes on to the governor. This is the second year in a row I wrote to every department head, I wrote to the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties here and I have not been successful in getting a proclamation in my own state.”

Crane said not getting a state proclamation is disappointing but it will not stop him from celebrating the work of assistance dogs.

“My goal for the week is to meet with the Fresno mayor get some photos taken and show my pride in her honoring the dogs this week,” Crane said.