ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — Most dog owners consider themselves inseparable from their pets. You see one, you see the other.
But for Sgt. Mark Jenkins, his relationship with Scout, a 9-year-old yellow Lab, is more than just a bond of friendship. It’s a lifesaving connection.
Jenkins, who medically retired from the U.S. Army in 2010, depends on Scout — considered a “service animal’ — to alert him to the fact he’s close to suffering a seizure.
Jenkins spoke about his life with a service dog at a recent meeting of the Elizabeth City Morning Rotary Club. Jenkins served as a military police officer in the Army from 2006 to 2010 and saw duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was injured in the line of duty in 2008.
After a brief introduction, Jenkins, with Scout at his side, stepped to the podium.
“Put the dog on the table so we can look at him,” a man seated up front shouted, earning a laugh from Jenkins and the audience.
Jenkins told the audience that when he was injured he temporarily lost mobility and he had to undergo speech therapy. He began suffering seizures and having blackouts. That was while he was in treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
That’s where a doctor told Jenkins that dogs can be trained to detect seizures in humans. That really opened his eyes to the need for service dogs, he said.
The nonprofit America’s VetDogs assisted Jenkins in finding Scout, who has been at Jenkins’ side now for six years.
Jenkins said he encourages people with disabilities, whether they’re veterans or not, to contact a service dog organization to see if they quality for a service animal. Many of those organizations are nonprofits and depend on donations.
“What I do is make people aware how important it is that people support these organizations,” Jenkins said.
An online search using the words ‘service dog organizations’ leads to links to several of these organizations.
Jenkins said Scout alerts him to an oncoming seizure by smelling a difference in his blood. If he is standing and Scout detects a seizure, the dog will nudge him and then lean against him to prevent him from falling. If he’s sitting at the time, Scout will climb on top of him and pin him to where he’s seated, Jenkins said. Scout also is trained to retrieve Jenkins’ medications and to push a button notifying 911 emergency services.
Jenkins also informs the public about the different laws that cover the use of service animals. For instance, it is a felony to assault a service animal, Jenkins said. He’s been to hotels where he was told his service dog wasn’t allowed because the hotel has a no pets policy. That, too, is against the law.
“They don’t understand that in the United States if you have a service dog they cannot deny you access,” he said, referring to some motel and hotel operators.
People also should not ask someone with a service dog what their disability is either, Jenkins said. In some instances, such as in Jenkins’ case, a person with a service dog may not have a visible disability.
“Most veterans with service dogs actually don’t have noticeable wounds,” Jenkins said.
It also cost about $50,000 to train a service dog, he said.
America’s VetDogs is headquartered in Smithtown, New York. For more information about the organization, visit online at vetdogs.org.
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