In Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada, Kasper, a beautiful Lab, has made all the difference in Alex Mertens’ world. Alex, 13 years old, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Kasper is a graduate of the Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society. Kasper has been trained to open doors, pick up dropped objects, and many other duties that help to make Alex’s life much, much easier.
A big test for Kasper was a trip to the mall. Inside the mall, Alex told Kasper to sit and stay, and then went about 50 feet away down the mall corridor. Kasper did not move until Alex called him. “I was shocked because he was listening to me in a crowded mall,” Alex said. “I use my ‘teacher’s voice.’ I don’t necessarily yell at him, but I use a firm voice.” He gets a treat – a piece of his own dog food – when he obeys.
Kasper also ignored all the dropped food in the food court. He’s been trained to eat only when Alex gives him the command to eat.
“At four-and-a-half weeks we start training the dogs,” said Maria Illes, a representative of Dogs with Wings. “We will put a dog in a foster home for a year and then bring them back to our centre for more training. Once they are fully trained we will try to match them up with a client… We try to fit the dog with the client’s personality.”
Carol Mertens, Alex’s Mom, said, “We are hoping, in the future, to have Kasper roll Alex over in the night. Right now, Mike (her husband) and I are getting up two or three times a night to turn Alex.” Kasper is even helping the Mertens family save on their electric bill by turning off the lights when no one is in the room.