Service dog gives child new outlook on life

July 21, 2011 9:59:37 AM PDT
Services dogs for people with disabilities are trained to help with mobility, independence and attention, which is essential for many young individuals like a 14-year-old west suburban boy with several disabilities.

It's truly amazing how a dog can improve the quality of life for Patrick Maresh, especially since he was not a typical candidate for a service dog.

Last summer, Patrick got Mary Lou, a 3-year-old golden retriever lab mix.

"It's a blessing, and it has completely changed his life," said Patrick's mother Jan. "Mary Lou brought people into his world and that's all Patrick wanted. And as you know, sometimes people are not very kind and sometimes people don't want to respond or even make eye contact, but boy, you put a dog at the end of a leash and everybody will talk to him."

Mary Lou has also changed their lives says mom Jan.

"I used to go to the high school to a choir concert and spent a lot of time in the lobby with Patrick because he couldn't for some reason process it," Jan said. "He couldn't sit through it. There were too many people. There was too much noise...Now the dog is there, and if he gets antsy, he leans over, pets the dog, and I've watched the whole concert."

Patrick is non-verbal. He has a condition called hypotonia.

"He has difficulty with motor planning and strength," Jan said.

Being with Patrick all day long at school took some time for Mary Lou to get used to.

"When she first started here she thought she had to take care of everyone, and honestly she was very stressed," said Jan. "She would go from child to child, just kind of doing the check, like a security sweep. And after a month she realized she was Patrick's dog, and Patrick was her boy, and Patrick was her only responsibility."

Teacher Bill Benjamin was a little skeptical about having a service dog in his class.

"It took Mary Lou a little while to get used to us, and vice versa, but around October or November something seemed to click and we've really enjoyed her since then," said Benjamin.

Patrick recently graduated from Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove. He will be starting high school in a few weeks.

"I will probably start the school year with Patrick and Mary Lou just to make it easier for those working with Patrick, so that they will also know Mary Lou's commands," said Jan.

For a child like Patrick, having a service dog gave him a new outlook on life.

"It seems like just yesterday he came in as a shy little sixth grader, and now he's bloomed into a high school student," Benjamin said.

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