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Published: Saturday, 1/26/2013

Man with multiple sclerosis, 68, says service dog changed his life

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Service dog Quincy retrieves a slipper for his owner Benny Wilkerson, 68, who has multiple sclerosis, during a visit with students at Whiteford Elementary School in Ottawa Lake. Service dog Quincy retrieves a slipper for his owner Benny Wilkerson, 68, who has multiple sclerosis, during a visit with students at Whiteford Elementary School in Ottawa Lake.
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Quincy does all the things assistance dogs are typically trained to do.

The 4-year-old Golden Retriever helps his owner, Benny Wilkerson, of Ottawa Lake, Mich., pick up items he has dropped so he doesn’t fall out of his motorized wheelchair trying to retrieve them.

He helps open and close doors.

He can even fetch the phone on command.

But what Quincy does for Mr. Wilkerson, 68, who has multiple sclerosis, is much more than physical.

PHOTO GALLERY: Assistance Dog Visits Whiteford Elementary

“He’s not just a service dog, but he’s a therapy dog too,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “He helps my blood pressure. He helps my anxiety. And he helps my depression. It’s just amazing what he’s done to change my life.”

Mr. Wilkerson spoke on Thursday before three assemblies of children at Whiteford Elementary School in Ottawa Lake about the difference the dog has made in his life in the nine months since he got him. He demonstrated some of the many things Quincy does to help him.

“See how excited he gets when I tell him to do something?” Mr. Wilkerson asked the children. “He just wants to work and help me.”

He was joined by Jenny Barlos, client services director at Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence, the Toledo group that trained Quincy and placed him with Mr. Wilkerson. Mr. Wilkerson’s wife, Sandy, and his daughter, Tina Calhoun, also attended.

Quincy gets a hug from second grader Cameron Kolmar. Quincy gets a hug from second grader Cameron Kolmar.
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The 270 children, in grades kindergarten through fifth, were impressed with the many skills that Quincy demonstrated. They also enjoyed petting the dog on their way out of the auditorium and Quincy soaked up the attention.

“I learned that dogs are really smart and nice,” said Kyleigh Borowicz, 9, a fourth grader who lives in Ottawa Lake.

The children got to ask Mr. Wilkerson and Ms. Barlos questions.

Pamela Ouelette, 11, a fifth grader who lives in Lambertville, wondered if Quincy would know what to do if a criminal tried to prey on Mr. Wilkerson. He said Quincy would bark and let others know if anything bad happened.

“Dogs are very protective of their people,” Ms. Barlos said. “Criminals would probably tend to avoid someone with a dog.”

Kim Johnson, principal of Whiteford Elementary School, said the school would have a large box in the front area for children to drop off items from the assistance dog group’s wish list that was provided to the school.

Quincy, a 4-year-old golden retriever service dog owned by Benny Wilkerson, shares affection with third grader Emily Wells at Whiteford Elementary School in Ottawa Lake. Quincy, a 4-year-old golden retriever service dog owned by Benny Wilkerson, shares affection with third grader Emily Wells at Whiteford Elementary School in Ottawa Lake.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

“I think it was a wonderful program,” she said of Mr. Wilkerson and Ms. Barlos’ presentation. “It’s a great way to show the kids the benefits that animals can have to people.”

The presentation was arranged by Mr. Wilkerson’s daughter, Ms. Calhoun, who also is hosting a fund-raising dinner for the assistance dogs organization from 4 to 7 p.m. March 2 at St. Michael Lutheran Church, 5790 W. Temperance Rd., Ottawa Lake.

Tickets for “Pasta for Pooches,” which are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 10, can be purchased at the door or by calling Ms. Calhoun at 419-349-4966.

“What a difference Quincy has made in my dad’s life,” Ms. Calhoun said, adding that she is organizing the dinner to show her appreciation to Assist Dogs. “It's our little way of giving back.”

The kids who attended the school presentation will be decorating the placemats that will be used at the dinner and will compete in a contest to win tickets to the dinner and other prizes. The dinner also will include a raffle, cake walk, silent auction, and live music.

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.



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