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TYRONE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A middle-aged man who had not spoken in days after falling ill reached out his arm, patted Parker, a golden retriever, on the head and whispered, "Dog."
A very ill, elderly woman who also had not spoken in a few days leaned closer to Parker and softly sang "Happy Birthday" to the dog, who was decked out in his birthday bandana as he visited patients.
Those two separate incidents are examples of the positive attributes therapy dogs like Parker, who is trained at Paradise Dogs Training LLC in Tyrone Township, can bring into someone's life — and it's one of the main reasons the company's owners, Lori and Jack Grigg, spend their days training service dogs.
"It's been a rewarding job," Jack Grigg said. "We've worked with people who have previously not been able to leave the house until they get an assistance dog. We trained an assistance dog for a woman who is a nurse and ... she had hard time leaving her work station because of mobility issues.
"The day . she walked around the hospital with the dog, she was in tears because she could leave her work station," he added.
The couple trains assistance dogs for every disability except blindness, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus (http://bit.ly/1KObiNd ) reports.
Their dogs can sniff out bed bugs and determine when a diabetic patient's sugar levels are too low or too high. The dogs are also trained to assist people with physical challenges, such as cerebral palsy or spinal-cord injuries, and emotional or mental needs like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lori and Jack Grigg, who have been married nearly 25 years, moved to Livingston County because it was neutral to their then-full-time employment.
Lori Grigg introduced Jack Grigg to the world of dog ownership when she gave him a puppy as a wedding gift. They spent the late 1980s and 1990s teaching obedience classes in the evening while working full time.
Jack Grigg worked as a land surveyor/construction inspector for a civil engineering company for about 17 years, while Lori Grigg spent about 23 years working for a service-dog organization.
When Lori Grigg brought home a dog from work, her husband would help with the training.
When the couple both were laid off in 2009, they wondered what to do next, which is when Lori Grigg saw a news item on a dog who sniffed out bed bugs.
"I thought, 'We could do that,'" she said.
The couple began training dogs — golden retrievers and Labradors — to sniff out bed bugs. Their clients included hotels, resorts and private homes. They also have sold dogs to pest-control companies that use them for clients.
From there, the company grew.
Jack Grigg said about one-third of their business today is bed-bug-detecting dogs, one-third assistance dogs and one-third therapy dogs who are trained specifically for service in hospitals or schools. Some of their dogs work at St. John's Providence Hospital in Novi.
Lori Grigg said clients complete an application for a dog and then Paradise Dogs finds a dog that fits that client's needs.
They work with breeders in Ohio and Nebraska and "pay top dollar" for puppies that are genetically fit and healthy. They also purchase puppies from a breeder in the Clarkston area and are always looking for volunteers to foster a puppy for about 12 months to 14 months. After that time, the puppies are returned to Paradise Dogs for training and placement.
They selected golden retrievers and Labs because those breeds are calm, gentle and love to be petted, Lori Grigg explained.
"They are sponges that suck up everything," she said. "They love to retrieve. If you place one of these dogs with a disabled person, the dog is always retrieving. It gets to be the norm and not a job; they do it every day."
It takes about six months to eight months to train the dogs for specific skills. That initial training is done at the couple's home and in the community.
Jack Grigg takes the dogs to area stores as part of their training in dealing with the public.
Each dog is worked about one-and-a-half hours per day. Once the initial training is completed, the Griggs work with the client to acclimate the dog to a new handler or owner.
The training depends on the needs the dog will fulfill. For example, the dogs trained for a diabetic client will be introduced to an empty and clean paint pail and taught to stick its nose inside the pail. The couple then introduces cloths that have the client's scent when his or her blood sugar is low or high and the dog is then taught to recognize the scent cloth.
"A lot of people don't know when their blood sugar is low or high — and by the time it's really low, they are already passing out," Jack Grigg explained. "We need a self-starter, and the dog is trained to recognize the change in the (owner's) breath, which signals low or high blood-sugar levels."
The dog then alerts its owner, who can call 911 for help, if needed, before the irregular sugar level becomes an emergency.
Lori Grigg said one client in Dearborn began to have reactions when her sugar level was at 70, and the dog learned to alert her when it reached 78 or 80, which gave the woman time to take medication or seek additional help.
The Dearborn woman, Kathy Scott, said she's had her yellow Lab, Henry, for about two-and-a-half years. Prior to getting her dog, she spent a lot of time at home because her sugar level would get dangerously low and she'd become unresponsive or "pass out cold." That also occurred while she was sleeping.
Henry reads Scott's body symptoms better than she does, she said, and when her levels are low or high, Henry paws at her, nudges her with his nose and jumps all over her in an attempt to get her attention or a reaction before she reaches the unresponsive stage.
Scott said Henry has taught himself how to push a "dog-able alert button" on her telephone, which is pre-programmed to call her husband and then her daughter if her husband doesn't answer. One evening, Henry did just that while Scott's husband was overseas on business.
As her husband was walking along a pier, he received a phone call from home, but no one spoke when he picked up. He then heard Henry moving around and realized his wife was in trouble. Scott said her husband called her daughter, who was home sleeping and did not hear the glucose alarm her mother wears daily. The daughter found Scott unresponsive in bed.
"Henry may have saved my life that time," Scott said, clearly still affected by the memory. "At the minimum, he's saved me from permanent brain damage.
"I have a lot more freedom, independence and confidence," she continued. "One thing that is important to me is getting to the gym on a regular basis, but it was difficult. When (a friend) can't go with me, Henry goes with me and he alerts me ... I have a lot more peace of mind for me and my family."
Melissa Davert said a Paradise Dog has been a godsend for her daughter, Michaela, a 16-year-old who has brittle bones.
Michaela Davert, who is about 2 feet 6 inches tall and uses a wheelchair, has had difficulty doing some things on her own. Since getting her assistance dog, Chloe, the teen has gained self-confidence and can do more things without assistance from her parents, Melissa Davert said.
Michaela Davert said many people take for granted the little tasks that can be threatening to her, such as picking up a dropped item or opening a door. If she does those tasks, she runs the risk of breaking a bone, but with Chloe doing those daily skills for her, Michaela Davert is given freedom.
"It's an absolutely amazing gift," she said. "It makes me more independent and keeps me a lot safer."
Information from: Livingston Daily Press & Argus, http://www.livingstondaily.com
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