This GReat photo from John T. Greilick, of The Detroit News, shows Maltby Middle School guidance counselor Dian Kolis with her Assistance Golden, Ivan. He is aptly demonstrating his recovery skills as he picks up sixth-grader Joey Vollmer’s wallet.
Check out the following news article and then Dian’s own essay to learn how truly special this partnership is between Dian Kolis and her “Walk/Brace” Assistance Golden Ivan. I further learned that this very astute Golden boy wears a harness to help Dian balance and navigate stairs, as well as help her sit and stand. He is also trained to step on her foot should she “freeze” in a Parkinson’s stall. Further, Ivan retrieves the telephone, picks up dropped items, and helps Dian up from a fall. I also visited PAWs with a Cause, the wonderful Assistance Dog group that had trained this team and learned so much more. I hope you read through the following pieces so that as Paul Harvey says . . . . “now you know the rest of the story.”
Students reading to help sponsor assistance dog
By Lisa Carolin, Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter
A school counselor and her trusty golden retriever have inspired students at Maltby Middle School to read for 20 minutes a day for the entire month of March, which is National Reading Month.
Maltby Counselor Dian Kolis returned to Maltby after a five-year absence because she was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Thanks to donations from three schools in Oakland County with the help of the United Way, Kolis was able to afford Ivan, a PAWS With A Cause Dog, who has literally given her the strength to return to her job.
“It’s because of Ivan that I could return to work and because of him that I am ambulatory,” says Kolis. “My coworkers had the idea to pay it forward, and we want to sponsor a PAWS With A Cause assistance dog for someone else in Livingston County.”
Students at Maltby are collecting pledges for minutes read during march that will go to funding a PAWS dog for someone in the county.
“The response has been overwhelming,” says Kolis. “Our students are learning about philanthropy, feeling good about helping someone else.”
Below you will find . . . the rest of the story. It is fascinating to learn that Ivan has saved his partner’s life and alerted to cardiac arrhythmias. Just as interesting, though, is how their partnership was for a time threatened, yet managed to mature into something extraordinary.
A NEW START IN LIFE SPELLED: IVAN
By Dian Kolis, PAWS Client
Illness changes a life in an instant. One day I was too busy to stop and smell the roses and, seemingly, the next day I wished I were able to go outside, bend down and smell the delicate fragrance of a rose. I went from being the center of a whirlwind of busy activity to being quietly homebound.
Days might pass before I would leave the house I realized that I had not gone to the store alone in a year. I didn’t go outside to enjoy a sunny warm day. (The last time I was outside, alone, I fell and tore cartilage in my knee.) My days were not filled with creative time with art or needlework. (The hands can’t manipulate those scissors or hold the paintbrush or needle quite right.) Even cooking could be dangerous. (cuts from a slipped grip, oven burns from a trembling hand, falls from bending down to pick up dropped objects.)
Yes, life had changed. Each day brought challenges, loneliness, frustration and tiredness from meeting obstacles. And, when I received the call from Paws With A Cause that there was a possible match of an Assistance Dog who could meet my needs, I did not understand how dramatically my life was to change but again.
August 19, 2003 Ivan came to live with me as my helper. Our Paws With A Cause Field Instructors, Lori Grigg and Helen Dinsmore, had their hands full when they took on Ivan and me. My dog handling experience was very limited and Parkinson’s disease had left me with precarious balance, a slow odd walk, and pronounced muscle weakness. Ivan, on the other hand, was a big, strong, quick, hairy, eager and exuberant nineteen-month-old Golden Retriever. I felt overwhelmed.
Lori and Helen invested countless hours each week teaching Ivan and I to work together as a team. We learned that Ivan and I have many similar personality characteristics. We are both very sensitive to others and get our feelings hurt easily. We share a love of humor and like to play. Ivan quickly learned to slow down and approach his tasks with gentleness and patience. And I learned that lots of praise and a pocket full of treats would get you far in the dog world. But we were both unsure of ourselves and tentative
About seven months into our training we hit a big rough spot in the road. Ivan became less confident and felt overwhelmed by his job’s high level of responsibility. And, I felt that I could not trust him l00%. It was, wisely, suggested that perhaps Ivan should go back to the training center for a “career change.” Ivan and I both were devastated. We might have hit a rough spot in the training road but one thing was still solid: we had come to love and depend on each other. We were not willing to give up on our partnership. Ivan was eager to be my helper; he just needed help in learning how to approach his job with confidence.
With the help and wisdom of Lynn Hoekstra, PAWS SE Michigan Regional Director, Ivan and I began a new training regimen that focused on praise and basic obedience skills. Ivan’s harness was changed from the traditional variety to one that was less restrictive. We worked slowly and patiently through the spring and summer, training several times each week using lots of treats and a clicker to help Ivan understand when he was doing things “right.” Because Ivan responded so positively to praise, we acknowledged all of his positive skills and built on previous successes. Ivan quickly learned what behaviors we valued and, he was eager to please us with those behaviors.
Ivan relaxed and became more in tune to me. I relaxed and began to increasingly trust him. We both became much more confidant. We trusted ourselves and we trusted each other. Amazing things began to happen. As my brain cued into the rhythm of Ivan’s walk, my gait began to normalize. When I stumbled, Ivan kept me afoot. He began alerting me before the symptoms of cardiac angina occurred and awoke me at night when I had cardiac arrhythmia. And, Ivan began to ‘think for himself” and “problem solve.” Even though he had not been trained to do so, Ivan blocked my steps so that we did not walk into the path of a car whose driver did not see us. He saved us both from being hit by that car. We began working together as a team.
Yes, we are a team. We look out for each other. I watch that he doesn’t eat milk carton caps or earrings; he keeps me from falling. With Ivan, my family can relax a bit and let him take over “watching Mom”. We go to the store alone, take classes, visit relatives. As a team with Ivan, I can go and do just about whatever I want to do. Ivan and I visit schools as a part of the Paws-To-Read program and were speakers for the United Way annual drive this fall.
Ivan is an integral part of our family. My well-being is confidently placed in his care, and I know that he will never let me down. Thanks to Helen, and Lori and Lynn and the entire Paws With A Cause organization, I have been able to leave that homebound, fearful lifestyle behind me and re-enter the world as a person who has something to give others.
With Ivan I can, not only, smell the roses. I imagine he and I could even plant a few.