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Service dog is a life saver

Rachelle Shields is shown with her service dog, Don’tKnow.
Rachelle Shields is shown with her service dog, Don’tKnow. Photo by Lyla Spath

Rachelle Shields credits her service dog, Don’tKnow, with saving her life. Shields has problems with balance, as well as anorexia and bulimia.

“Don’tKnow has been a Godsend. He can see a change in me,” Shields said. “He gets me to eat.
“He won’t eat his food unless I take a bite of it. I cook his food, too. He’s a picky eater, so I cook for him,” she said.

Shields prepares chicken, oatmeal, rice, beef, fish and ham for her dog. She eats the same things.

“If he sees I’m binging to an unhealthy degree,” Don’tKnow stops my eating,” Shields said.

She added that Don’tKnow also forces her to get out. Before Shields had Don’tKnow, she said she was a hermit, staying in her apartment.

Now, her goal is to help other people with eating disorders.

“I don’t want to see somebody else suffer the way I have,” Shields said.

Shields is receiving funding to assist with training Don’tKnow from Huntington County HELP Foundation. The group assists people with all types of disabilities.

So that Don’tKnow could do his work properly, Shields purchased a special service harness for him. Each harness, which costs approximately $1,000, is custom-made so that it fits the individual dog’s body.

Michael Rowland, owner of Animal Training and Development  Center in Fort Wayne, has been working with Rochelle and her three-year old Husky for a few months. He has trained an estimated 15 service dogs over the course of his career.

“Typically it takes one to one-and-a-half years to get through training and certification,” Rowland said.

“However, this team was above and beyond what I expected to see when I started. They are already halfway there. We’re always trying to help dogs and people connect so that they can have a better life together. We’re looking to create a team where they’re both better together than apart,” he said.

Don’tKnow has just completed his Balance Assist Certification and has his Canine Good Citizen Certification.

Rowland emphasized that there are several things people should be aware of when they see a service dog. Service dogs, who normally wear an identifying vest, should not be petted, or spoken to, by the public.   People should not make eye contact with the dog, either.

“When a service dog is working, it’s very important that they don’t get distracted by anything,” Rowland said.

Not every dog is a good candidate to be a service dog, according to Rowland. He spoke about “dogalities” when describing a dog’s per-sonality and make-up.

“We look for strong, supportive dogalities,” Rowland said.