Service animals become out of practice during pandemic


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The routines of our daily lives came to an abrupt halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit nearly a year ago.

As you emerge from the more sedentary lifestyle quarantine provides, are you a little out of shape? Are your critical thinking skills a little bit slower from all that Netflix binging?

You’re not alone and in fact, you’re in good company because the people who rely on service animals are noticing they too are a little bit rusty.

Mikayla Jones, 22, of Plymouth and her 5-year-old black Labrador, Saffron, make quite the team.

“I waited for a service dog for almost four years. She just has changed my life,” Jones said.

Jones and Saffron have been together for two years.

An undated courtesy photo of Mikayla Jones and her Paws with a Cause service dog, Saffron.

Jones has cerebral palsy, and she says Saffron has made her a more outgoing person.

“It actually was very, very scary to do stuff at all because I would fall down and there would be no one there to help me up if I was by myself,” Jones said.

When Jones falls, Saffron will stand near Jones with her back braced. Jones can then push down on Saffron’s back and get herself back up to a standing position.

Before the pandemic, Saffron would accompany Jones to classes and anywhere else she wanted to go. Quarantine kept them home and for the most part, off their feet. So last week when they headed out for the first time in months, Jones says she’s seen a difference in Saffron’s skills.

“She’s lost a little bit. She struggles when people say hi to her when she’s working and she kind of forgets to help me up off the ground and gets a little more distracted,” Jones said.

A undated courtesy photo of Saffron, a Paws with a Cause service dog.

Several people with assistance dogs have also reported seeing similar changes.

“Just like humans, if you are not using a talent or skill, you tend to lose it or get a little bit rusty so unfortunately, we have heard that feedback from some of our clients,” said Cara Conway, public relations and social media coordinator for Paws with a Cause.

Saffron is a Paws with a Cause dog that the Wayland nonprofit trains and provides assistance dogs for those who need them. Paws also has field representatives across the state. They recertify their animals every two years and when a service dog starts forgetting its tasks, there’s someone to call for help.

“If they’re having any issues at any time, they just pick up their phone and call their field rep and the field rep will come over to them and help work on ways to help get the dog back on track,” Conway said.

“I’m very, very impressed with her and how well she’s remembering everything. She’s just so smart and sweet,” Jones said.

A undated courtesy photo of Saffron, a Paws with a Cause service dog.

Jones says quarantine has brought this team even closer with more time to snuggle and more time together.

“Paws (with a Cause) has changed my life like so much. Saffron is such a blessing,” Jones said.

Paws with a Cause is currently accepting new clients. If you could benefit from a service dog, you’re encouraged to apply through March 31.

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