Dog News

Service Dog Enriches Alzheimer’s Patient’s Life

by Melanie

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9.19.12 Service Dog
Rick Phelps with his service dog, Sam

A German Shepherd named Sam has been an absolute lifesaver for one Ohio man.  Rick Phelps, of West Lafayette, said that his dog has done more good for him in three weeks than medications and therapy has done in two years.

In June 2010, 59-year-old Phelps was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Since then he’s become an advocate for all forms of dementia.  But despite campaigning for awareness, having Alzheimer’s has been incredibly stressful for Phelps.  Just going to Wal-Mart was terrifying.  That all changed when Phelps met Sam.

“I had stress and anxiety and was afraid of everything.  On a scale of one to 10, I was probably a 12.  Now, I would say I’m a two or maybe a three because of this dog.  It’s a miracle and I can’t believe it yet,” Phelps explained. “We’re bonding more everyday and he’s trained to do that.  He knows when I’m stressed out.”

Phelps is the founder of Facebook page Memory People, which has over 2,000 members who are comprised of Alzheimer’s patients, family members, caregivers and advocates.  While doing a bit of research for a woman asking about a dementia service dog for her husband, Phelps came across a site called DogWish.  Bob Taylor, who runs the California training facility, contacted Phelps.  The very next day, an anonymous donation of over $8,000 was made for Phelps to fly to California to receive his own service dog and training.

Phelps sent a t-shirt and blanket of his ahead of him.  When he arrived, service dog Sam knew him by smell and ran right to him.

“Sure enough, he came right out of the house and right to me. He sat down and started licking me all over me. It’s like he knew me forever and I had just been away,” Phelps said.

As each day passes, Phelps is more astounded by Sam’s capabilities.  He warns Phelps if his vehicle or stove have been left on.  Sam can detect their jeep in a crowded parking lot, and is able to find Phelps if he is lost up to 40 miles away.  Sam can tell if Phelps has forgotten to put a medication patch on his shoulder at night, and will lick his shoulder to alert him.   Sam can even sense impending danger and will lead Phelps to safety.

Now Phelps is doing speaking engagements across the country to share his story of Sam, all “while I still can,” as he says.  This phrase has been his motto over the last two years, and is even the title of a book and a song he has developed.

“I didn’t know this was going to happen, but I hoped this was going to happen, because this is what needs to be,” he said. “It’s opening up doors I couldn’t open up, because nobody has heard of (a dementia service dog).”

This has all been a blessing for Phelps’ wife of 28 years, Phyllis.  She still works, and worried about all the anxiety her husband was feeling while home alone.  With Sam there, she is less stressed, too.

“If he had a 24/7 person with him all the time, the dog is the same thing. The dog is there and protects him,” Phyllis said.