Balance Dogs: Love & Freedom

We love the dogs in our lives, dogs that we care for, dogs that stand by our side—dogs that “balance’ our lives. However, have we considered how dogs (and other service animals) help people who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) tend to surface between the ages of 20 and 40. Some symptoms come and go, while others linger. Some patients have a single symptom, while other patients will go months or years without any other symptoms. Often, a symptom can occur just once and never return. No two people have exactly the same symptoms.

Early MS symptoms:

  • Arm or leg weakness

  • Blurred vision

  • Clumsiness

  • Cognitive ability

  • Numbness

  • Lack of coordination

  • Loss of balance

  • Tingling

The severity of symptoms vary:

Unusual sensations: People may experience uncomfortable symptoms that feel like “pins and needles”; burning, itching, numbness, stabbing, or tearing pains. These sensations can usually be managed or treated.

Bladder problems: About 8 out of 10 people may have trouble emptying their bladder. Bowel problems such as constipation are common.

Trouble walking: MS can cause muscle weakness, spasms, fatigue, or balance problems.

Speech problems: MS can cause people to have long pauses between words. Often their speech is slurred or nasal. In more advanced stages of MS, patients develop swallowing problems.

Thinking problems: MS usually does not change intellect or ability to read and understand conversation, however, slowed thinking, poor attention, or fuzzy memory are common.

Tremors: About half of people with MS have shakes, making it difficult to do everyday activities.

Vision problems: Sight may be blurry, gray, or have a dark spot in the center. Patients may often complain of eye pain and/or temporary vision loss.

People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) have difficulty moving from place to place due to numbness in their legs, which results in instability and lack of balance. MS-related fatigue can also cause people to fall or have difficulty walking. Aids such as canes can help, but Balance Dogs are becoming common amongst patients diagnosed with MS.”

However, MS doesn't have to control someone’s life. Many patients work with their doctor to treat and manage symptoms. Most people stay healthy and continue to live life as they wish—that includes living with a special dog. These special dogs are called Balance Dogs.

Thinking of owning a Balance Dog?

  • You must loves dogs

  • You must be willing to work with your dog

  • You need to properly care for your dog

  • You can identify how a Balance Dog will assist you, given your individual level of disability

“One of the most important functions that these dogs fulfill for their Caregivers are the provision of constant loyal companionship.” —Unknown

Physicians divide MS symptoms into three groups:

Primary: Damage to the protective sheath (myelin) around the nerves in the brain or spine. This damage causes scarring, which makes it harder for signals to travel between body and brain. This damage can lead to loss of balance, numbness, paralysis, tingling, tremors, vision problems, weakness, bladder and/or bowel problems. Physical therapy and medical treatments keep primary concerns under control.

Secondary: These symptoms follow primary problems of MS. For example, patients that are unable to empty their bladder can develop bladder infections. Physicians can treat secondary symptoms, however, the goal is to treat primary symptoms.

Tertiary: These symptoms are job-related, psychological, and social. For instance, if MS makes it difficult to walk or drive, people are unable to function well in the workplace. Because MS circumstances vary, it's best not to compare between two people.

How Balance dogs Help MS patients:

  • They assist patients move from room to room.

  • They brace patients as they get up and down; assisting them in getting in and out of chairs or beds.

  • They sense when patients are fatigued. Balance Dogs encourage rest by gently nudging their patient toward a chair or wall.

  • They pick up dropped items, like a pen or telephone from the floor.

  • They push buttons in an elevator.

  • They open doors using a special device.

  • They turn on and off lights.

“The single most important benefit a MS patient has when owning a Balance Dog is their independence—the freedom to do things independently.” —Genia Pappas

Depending on availability and level of patient disability, there’s financial assistance for purchasing, training, and maintaining a Balance Dog. To discover options, patients can call their local MS care provider or MS Society chapter that serves people with disabilities. In addition to providing increased mobility when performing activities of daily living, Balance Dogs are becoming more socially accepted. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, ‘Service Dogs have every right to be anywhere that you have a right to be.’

Three ways to obtain a Balance Dog:

1. Trainer/Caregiver: The dog is trained by owner. This option can be rewarding, but often can run the risk that the puppy develops health problems or a personality not suited for service.

2. Professionally Trained Dogs: Hired professional dog trainer to help train a Balance Dog. Same risks apply as above, but there’s a greater chance of success. However, the costs will increase.

3. Assistance Dog Organizations: Obtain a dog who has already been trained for service. The quality of these dogs and their training may vary greatly. There are strict organization regulations. Be sure to research each organization and interview people who have obtained dogs from the same place you’re considering.

Not all dogs make good Balance Dogs. While most dogs provide comfort to a MS patient, a true Balance Dog must meet the criteria to be able to handle such an important task. Common breeds used for service are: Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

A Balance Dog must:

  • Be large enough to support extra weight.

  • Cannot have any health problems.

  • Be trainable and well adjusted in society

  • Be able to focus on patient tasks that need to be accomplished.

  • Connect with their caregiver and/or person suffering with MS.

  • Be discrete (for example, some dogs are trained to hide under tables in restaurants).

February 20, 2017 was “Love Your Pet Day.” Thank you for loving a Balance Dog also.

Christina Bournias resides in Michigan with her 3-pack; three new beautiful adopted miracles. As her “Angelwriter”, Nicodemus (1997-2010) is the wisdom behind the stories she shares. Christina champions the magnitude of building the bond between a dog and their person(s) by means of respectful communication and enduring admiration.

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2017 © !woof Nicodemus™

January, 2017: American Pet Magazine | V6 Issue1, Page 4-5

© All Rights Reserved

Resources: Love Your Pet Day

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