Maia and Me Living with PD (Pt. 1)

Lots of folks are asking me about my Parkinson’s Medical Service Dogs. Please read through this whole series to get a firm idea as to what it is to own a Parkinson’s disease Service Dog (PD SD). I’m a Parkinson person in Virginia, and I’m a state lobbyist for Parkinson's medical laws and AKC/ADA service dogs. I’m also a lobbyist for research, an ADA writer, and a senior Michael J. Fox speaker and advisor for UVA P4P for the past seven years. I’m writing today to educate others on owning a medical service dog.

Benefits of a service dog

Picture of the service dog Maia

People with Parkinson’s can benefit greatly from a therapy dog for company and mental support, especially those with advanced PD or for folks with more serious medical PD issues. Medical dog ownership can provide a mandatory opportunity for exercise several times a day as well as companionship, and a dog can perform helpful duties to help assist and alleviate the common symptoms of reduced strength, and with depression. They can also be trained to assist Parkinson’s patients with several types of daily activities.

My service dog is Maia and she is an AKC, smooth coated German Sheppard trained for my Parkinson's needs. Maia and I have gone through a long arduous one year private medical training program together for my Parkinson's needs. Currently, we are being studied by a private PD group on our relationship and how the larger breed, now at 70 pounds, helps me. One year into it and we are doing wonderfully. As my Parkinson’s needs progress, I will grow with my specialized medical dog service needs (Note: This is my second Medical service dog. My first dog was Maggie, a smaller Lab/Border collie mix scent dog. This wonderful dog gave me nine years of service and is now retired living with me and helps training with Maia).

Marcia and her service dog, Maggie

Maia is learning as a task dog to address my needs as my PD changes. I may become mobility-impaired with my PD in time, so Maia will help me with wheel chair needs. I, along with private donations, pay for training and care of Maia. We are always finding proper ways for others with Parkinson's can benefit in ownership of this sort of a medical dog early on with Parkinson's. A medical service dog or a therapy dog will make a big difference and I’ll explain their differences below. Many service medical dogs today I’ve found are for more advanced Parkinson's needs.

My gentle female Shepard

Maia is a perfect temperament and size for a medical Parkinson's service dog. Maia was trained at first as a therapy task dog then quickly skilled up at the age of nine months to be a medical service dog for a gentleman in a wheel chair with PD. Maia was then qualified and tested to become a medical service dog after she was used as a PD therapy dog and then a PD medical service dog during her second year. After her owner passed away, I qualified for Maia to be my Parkinson’s medical dog and she was donated to me. She has had very good training and is my gentle female Shepard. Please know she is just trained especially for my medical PD specialized needs, along with a private group doing research with Mlee Parkinson's group, my organization. I work closely with a private group with medical and therapy rescue dogs in order to find the perfect dogs to help others in the future to own a SD with PD. So perhaps the future of folks with Parkinson needs and service dog are easier to own. Lots of training and time goes into a service dog. This private organization has former training since Maia's birth. They are a new program and NOT public yet. We strongly suggest looking into your state’s service dog programs for a dog for your needs.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about the desirable characteristics of a Parkinson’s service dog.

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