Miriam Rocke’s service dog fills several roles in her life
“He’s almost 7, but he still acts like a puppy,” says Miriam Rocke. “He does that ‘I have something in my mouth’ walk when he wants to show off.”
You can hear the affection she has for her service dog, Yahtzee, as she talks about him. Clearly, he’s family . . . and an indispensable companion to Miriam who has FOP and very limited mobility.
“Having a dog is awesome,” she says. “They love you and are adorable, but he also has a job to do and knows it—we work together! Yahtzee is very social and friendly, too, so he’s kind of an icebreaker for me in social situations as I tend to be on the shy side.”
Miriam saw how useful service dogs could be in college when a friend of hers had one. While she knew dogs were trained for people who were deaf or blind, she had never heard of dogs trained to help people with mobility issues. And in the pre-Internet days, finding a dog wasn’t so easy.
“It took me 10 or 11 years to get a dog from the time I started looking,” Miriam says. “I’m sure it would be much easier now, but there are often more people that need dogs than there are qualified dogs available.”
Miriam went through the Bergin University of Canine Studies to get Yahtzee. She spent two weeks in intensive training to learn to work with him and how to fit him into her routine.
“Altering my daily routine and making time for Yahtzee’s exercise and bathroom breaks took the most getting used to,” she explains. “But Labs aren’t super high energy, so he’s also pretty good at snoozing on the couch. He gets me outside though—so I always get fresh air and see people. Yahtzee won’t let me be a hermit.”
He’s also a good buddy to Miriam’s orange tabby cat, Monkey.
Because of Miriam’s mobility issues, Yahtzee has to rely entirely on voice commands. Miriam says he’s a pro and allows her to be as independent as possible.
“If I drop something, he can get it for me,” she elaborates. “So, if I drop my keys while I’m trying to get in the door, I can tell Yahtzee to pick them up and not be stuck there till someone happens to come by who can help me.”
As well as crocheting and knitting, one of Miriam’s hobbies is singing in the local university choir. Yahtzee accompanies her to practice sessions where he’s a popular guy with the students.
“I’ll take his vest off and let the college kids pet him,” she says. “He’s kind of a surrogate dog for the students who miss their own dogs back home—Yahtzee is a good friend.”
On Selecting a Service Dog
Get a professionally trained dog rather than trying to do it yourself.
- Find a dog suited specifically to your needs, e.g., balance, using stairs or pulling a wheelchair.
- Make sure you get a dog with a temperament that matches you. Again, a professional agency can help match you with the right dog.
On Interacting with Service Dogs
If you encounter someone with a service dog (generally with some sort of vest or harness), ask the dog's person before petting, speaking to or interacting with the dog. A lot of service dogs need to focus on their tasks without being distracted.
Do you have a service dog? We’d love to hear from you. Email IFOPA and let us know when you got your dog and from where. We’ll follow up for future stories.