A Four-Legged Companion Opens Infinite Doors to Independence for One Young Girl
Twelve-year-old Claudia Rank has a magnetic smile that immediately draws you in. She can be a tad shy when you first meet her, but don’t let that fool you. She’s very insightful for her age, and if you’re lucky enough to get her on a trail ride, she might tell you some of the secrets of the universe. She’s certainly a young lady who knows what she wants.
While speaking with Claudia, she remembers watching a PBS special when she was five-years-old called “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” featuring a service dog program called Canine Assistants. Shortly after the special aired, Claudia’s parents submitted an application to the service dog program on her behalf.
After six years on the waiting list, Claudia and her mom, Beth, finally made the two-week journey from North Scottsdale to Canine Assistants, which is located near Atlanta, Georgia. There, they met Bliss, the dog that would help Claudia reach new heights of independence. Nearly a year later, the two of them have become an inseparable team.
In her own words, Claudia shares what life is like with Bliss.
M: Tell me about your disability.
C: I was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that has no cure. I have trouble walking and my hands don’t work well. It takes a long time for me to write with a pencil and paper, so I use a computer to type. Despite all my difficulties physically, I am very smart. Never judge a book by its beginning, or it’s cover.
M: How does Bliss help you?
C: Bliss helps me with physical tasks such as opening doors and drawers, picking up various items I drop, and helps reduce my stress at medical appointments. My favorite task she does is getting my cell phone out of my backpack and bringing it to me.
M: Tell me about how you and Bliss trained.
C: Bliss started training at two days old! As a puppy, she went through exposure training and obstacle courses. She had to practice many unusual, and sometimes scary, situations to prepare her for any kind of work. During this time, she also learned basic commands. She left the farm with a foster mom to gain experience in public. Canine Assistants uses Bonded-Based Choice Teaching for preparing the dog for service. When Bliss was almost two she was ready to be matched.
I went to Canine Assistants to match and bond with a dog. I also learned to work with Bliss. It was a great experience. Bliss was the first service dog I met there. She was super happy to see me and jumped up on my lap. When she came up on the couch, she pawed at my legs wanting me to play with her.
M: Are you and your dog still in training?
C: Bliss and I train together at home almost every day. We polish tasks and work on new ones.
M: When will you be done with training?
C: Never. We will always be going over tasks to make sure Bliss still knows and can perform them. She will keep on learning new ones too.
M: Do you let people pet her when she is working?
C: If it’s a new place that Bliss is unsure about, I don’t allow people to pet her so she can concentrate on behaving. If she’s okay with the place and is behaving, then I let people pet her.
M: Do you bring Bliss to school?
C: Yes. At school, Bliss lays down next to my desk and stays there unless I drop something. Bliss goes almost everywhere with me, even on vacation. I even took her to Colorado to go to an adaptive skiing class.
M: Do you take care of Bliss yourself?
C: I do some of the care for Bliss, such as feeding her, taking her out and going on walks, but other tasks, such as giving her baths, Mom does.
M: What kind of relationship do your siblings have with Bliss?
C: My siblings love the dog! Bliss knows she can have fun with the other kids, but really she is my dog. Eloise [Claudia’s twin sister] loves to teach Bliss new tasks, which I appreciate. We all love to cuddle with her and get a little love.
M: Do you have any special stories to share?
C: She follows me everywhere I go and is sad when I have to leave. She listens to me even when I don’t have any treats. She snuggles with me in bed, on the couch and in the car. I like playing hide-and-seek with her. One night she was sleeping in bed with me and I had a nightmare, woke up and Bliss rested her head on my tummy so I could pet her.
A girl and her dog is a beautiful thing, but a girl and her service companion is pure bliss.