Lori Henrotay shares advice on the service dog experience
“I would love it if everyone who has FOP would have an assistance dog by their side,” says Lori Henrotay. Her daughter Carli was diagnosed with FOP at five years old and has had service dogs since she was in the third grade.
After losing Ralph in 2014, Carli was not yet ready to be matched with a successor service dog so she got Graci, a rescue dog, who could sit in her lap and ride in her wheelchair. Carli was then matched with her successor assistance dog, Patience, in May 2015. At Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), the nonprofit organization from which the Henrotay family received both of Carli’s dogs, you are matched with the dog they feel, given their experience, will make the best team.
“My family jokes that I live with Patience and Grace,” Lori says with a laugh. “And, that I really don’t have either one of those qualities.”
But Lori does live with a strong belief that service dogs do much more for people living with FOP than simply pick up things they’ve dropped or retrieve items for them.
“Service dogs do so much for people emotionally,” she continues. “They help build self-esteem, teach responsibility and provide invaluable companionship.
“FOP can be lonely,” Lori explains. “These dogs can be best friends to kids with FOP who don’t have as many opportunities to join in games and do many of the things other children are doing. These dogs take the attention away from the disease and facilitate an easier conversation with an individual with FOP.”
In fact, Lori is so passionate about service dogs she’s recently become a puppy raiser with Canine Companions. Sir Knightly the puppy will live with Lori and her family until May 2018 when he’ll leave home to enter advanced training.
She’s also working on forming a Canine Companions chapter in St. Louis to help more people in the area understand how they can benefit from an assistance dog and how they can help spread the word as “Some Angels Have Wings, Others Have Tails.”
“I’ve seen how having a dog can widen the social life of people living with FOP,” says Lori. “My heart was touched so much by Ralph, and now, Patience. For me, the experience has been huge and I’m glad to get more involved in this important work.”
Lori’s Service Dog Tips
Do Your Homework. There are many organizations and individuals that can help. Some people purchase a dog and hire a trainer. This works for some, but is really expensive. Research what organizations are in your area and what national organizations train or provide assistance dogs to people with disabilities. One of the first families we met that had a child with FOP the same age as Carli was the Licht family. At the time, Daniel had Copper, a CCI dog. We followed in their footsteps. As a result, I think it is important that the dog (or the training team) matches the dog with the person, but it still works both ways.
Talk to Others. People with FOP are used to asking for help, and your search for a service dog should be no different. Connect with people who have FOP that already have a dog. Learn about what options are available to you.
Regardless, Be Prepared! There are costs associated with a service dog. If you go through an organization, you may be required to follow specific guidelines like providing ongoing reports and updates from your veterinarian to make sure the dog is in good health and being well cared for. On the flip side, many veterinarians offer discounts on services and medications for service dogs.
Small Children Can Get Dogs. Parents and children can be matched with a dog as a team.