Most of us already know that pets can be great sources of comfort and healing, especially in the face of loss. But Kahlua is not just an ordinary pet. He is the Chocolate Labradoodle who assists one of the residents of Chapel Hill Community in Canal Fulton, Ohio.
He’s special in many ways.
Kahlua is a service dog who has undergone intensive training in a state program that places service dogs for people with disabilities. Bonnie Reed, who lives at Chapel Hill, has had Kahlua for four years.
Bonnie has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair to move about. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. After her husband passed away, Bonnie struggled with more than just the emotional loss. She also struggled with the loss of the caregiver who helped maintain her independent lifestyle and mobility. But now with Kahlua as her constant companion, Bonnie is faring well.
“I knew Kahlua was trained to do special things,” Bonnie says, “but the emotional bond with him has been really unexpected.”
Kahlua has helped Bonnie in ways you wouldn’t imagine a dog could do. He is the principal reason why Bonnie can maintain her independence. His initial training involved teaching elementary school children basic safety rules, such as looking both ways before crossing the street. His more recent training involved helping people with disabilities, like Bonnie.
Kahlua was matched with Bonnie based on the personality of person and pet. Her lifestyle was evaluated prior to his advanced training, and Kahlua is re-tested on his abilities to be a service dog by the state every six months. The re-testing will continue until he is six years old. The program also has taught Bonnie how to train Kahlua to do new things, like how to shake when he meets new people, or how to bring her items if they are out of reach.
Since she is in a wheelchair, Kahlua instinctively picks up everything she drops on the floor. Bonnie is a quilter, so this can be an issue with items like sewing needles. “Leave it,” Bonnie commands. Kahlua leaves it. He opens doors for her, helps her take off her socks and, most impressively, helps with laundry by pulling clothes out of the dryer into a basket, dragging the basket to Bonnie, and taking each piece to put in Bonnie’s lap to fold. He even shakes the wrinkles out!
Everyone should be so blessed.
But perhaps the most amazing service is what they do for other Chapel Hill residents. No birthday or anniversary is complete without a visit from Kahlua and Bonnie. Kahlua visits a brain trauma patient who recently came out of a coma and adores the furry friend. Because he doesn’t startle easily, Kahlua went to sit with a particularly frightened resident during a recent tornado watch one night. Within minutes of Kahlua’s arrival, the patient was calm.
Everyone loves Kahlua, so much so that Bonnie builds extra time into her schedule when she goes out. She is always happy to tell people about Kahlua’s purpose and demonstrate his abilities.
But Kahlua’s purpose goes well beyond helping Bonnie maintain her independence. He demonstrates compassion for all people. He gives Bonnie more than peace of mind. He is hope, friendship, love. And not just for Bonnie, but for everyone he meets at Chapel Hill.