A dog is a woman’s best friend, which is certainly the case with Northwest Tucson resident Linda Neff, whose five-year-old pure-bred Rottweiler has completely changed her life.
Neff, 68, has been battling disseminated sarcoidosis, an illness that causes joint pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, and organ function.
At one point, the symptoms grew so severe that it affected not only Neff’s mobility, but her will to live.
“I was ready to go be with the Lord,” said Neff, a retired nurse practitioner. “I was having so much pain, and life was an incredible struggle. I was tired of trying.”
But Neff found another solution, and in doing so, revived her will to live. Alongside Jasmine, Neff enrolled in Handi-Dogs, a non-profit organization that helps individuals with disabilities train their dogs to be service animals.
Now, “Jazz” as Neff refers to her, is a certified service dog helping out in unimaginable ways.
If Neff drops something, Jasmine is there to retrieve it for her. If she has difficulty standing up, Jasmine braces so Neff can pull herself up. The talented pup is also trained to push open doors and turn tap lights on and off.
But just as important as Jasmine’s numerous skills is the bond formed from the training, and the rejuvenation of life that bond has brought to Neff.
“Handi-Dogs trains you as a team,” said Neff. “The bond she and I have now is amazing. I have a joy for life again. I have a zest for life. I look forward everyday to what Jazzy and I are going to do.”
Jasmine accompanies Neff everywhere she goes, be it church, the movies, the mall, or the grocery store. For Neff, Jasmine also serves to bring a sense of security.
“As I’m getting older, it’s nice having her by my side when I’m out or at home,” she said.
Neff’s story is just one of many heartwarming tales to come out of Handi-Dogs.
In her three years with Handi-Dogs, field trainer Rama Heisey has seen some amazing things happen.
There’s the story of Brandon, a 17-year-old diabetic, whose dog Kyra alerts him when his blood sugar levels are too high or too low based on a certain odor that is released from the breath.
“It’s a peace of mind for him to know his dog can notice this before he does, and before his levels rise or fall too much,” said Heisey.
Kyra also has a unique way of telling Brandon where his levels are.
“For the lows, Kyra will jump up and paw him,” said Heisey. “If his sugars start going high, she will tug on his shirt.”
Heisey said such training is a great benefit for parents of children with juvenile diabetes.
“It’s peace of mind for parents,” said Heisey. “Blood sugar really fluctuates during sleep, so the dog is actually taught to go get the parents when it starts fluctuating in the middle of the night. They don’t have to get up every couple of hours to check on their child.”
It’s stories like these that make the job a dream come true for Heisey.
“To be a part of this is so special for me,” she said. “The ultimate reward is seeing the people getting out of their shells and getting back out into the world, getting their life back.”
Handi-Dogs offers its services to individuals with a number of disabilities, including Attention Deficit Disorder, autism, hearing impaired, and more.
For more information, or to sign up for the certification classes, visit www.handi-dogs.org or call 326-3412.
For individuals who do not have a dog of their own to train, Handi-Dogs works closely with the Humane Society and other adoption clinics to place dogs with new owners for training.