Napoleon, OH (13abc Action News) - Assistance dogs change people's lives in countless ways, and a Henry County woman is learning that firsthand.Denise Etzler of Napoleon has only had her assistance dog for a matter of weeks, but she's already seeing big changes in her daily life.
Denise has been living with a form of Muscular Dystrophy for decades that weakens both her legs and her arms.She says she also suffers from migraines, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. But thanks to a young, black Labrador retriever, her world is opening back up.
Denise has a new helper by her side at physical therapy and at home. His name is Axle, "He is very outgoing. He has lots of energy which is good, because I don't stay home. I am out and about in the community. We go for two walks every day, usually about three miles each. Even when his harness is off, he is still on call. He has be alert 24-7 and does a wonderful job. He may look like he's sound asleep, but he will be awake in an instant to help me."
Axle and Denise have only been a team since October. Axle came from Canine Partners for Life, a Pennsylvania-based organization.
Denise made the trip from Napoleon to the training center last month."He's been trained for two years, but I had to be trained. He knows all his commands, and I had to learn all the commands. I was there for three weeks, basically in boot camp. We were in classes or on field trips for up to 8 hours a day, and then we had a couple hours of homework every night."
Axle picks things up off the floor for Denise.He also becomes like a walker helping Denise with her mobility, "Back in 1990 I started using a cane.About ten years later, I went to a walker and then a wider walker. About six years ago, I ended up in a wheelchair because my legs were too unstable. I was falling too much. With Axle by my side I am no longer afraid to fall. Even if I were to fall, I am able to use him to help me up."
While he was trained to help Denise with her mobility, he has also alerted her to things like migraines and nightmares related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Denise says the amazing thing is that he was not trained to alert her to those things, "I have been suffering from nightmares for years and I was not able to control them. He now wakes me up. I wake up to him licking my face. He then wants to comfort me, so he jumps into bed. All 80 pounds of him lands right between my husband and I."
Megan Ellerbrock is a physical therapist at Henry County Hospital.
She started working with Denise before Axle arrived. She says the difference is remarkable, "She's so much more confident in her mobility skills. Her balance has improved considerably. She is walking longer and going further distances which is tremendous. She knows she can depend on him. That's his job to be there for her. Having him by her side truly allows her to do a lot more than she was able to do without him."
Megan says Axle's help extends way beyond Denise when he's at the hospital, "It's been tremendous to see what a spirit boost it's been for all of us. All the patients brighten up. He truly gives people a sense of purpose they might not have had before. It's been awesome."
On a side note, Axle spent his first year of training behind bars at a maximum security women's prison in Maryland. After that, he went back to the Canine Partners for Life training center for some final work. Denise says one of the inmates who trained him was recently released and was able to come see Denise and Axle graduate from the training program.
Denise says Axle will work for up to ten years. After that he will retire as her family pet. She had cats growing up. Axle is her first dog.
If you would like to learn more about Canine Partners for Life, we've posted a link.