‘Rescue dogs can also be working dogs’: Local assistance dog is up for Hero Award

Thanks to her service dog, Meeka, Teresa Perry can do things she wasn’t able to do before. And for that, Perry nominated Meeka for the American Humane Hero Dog Award.

Meeka is the only dog ​​from San Diego to be selected for the first round in the service dog category (first round ends Thursday, May 12). If she garners enough votes to eventually qualify for the finals, she and Perry will face off against the winners in other categories this fall in Palm Beach, Florida.

Perry, a North Park resident who works at La Jolla Kayak in The Shores, adopted Meeka, an Australian cattle dog, as a rescue about a year ago on the advice of her therapist and psychiatrist to help Perry with her job. limiting life. – traumatic stress disorder stemming from an experience she is reluctant to talk about.

Meeka wakes Perry up every morning, helps him remember to take medicine and more.

Meeka’s success as a service dog led Perry to enter her into the Hero Dog contest. “He’s my hero,” Perry said. “Before coming to see me, she was in a very bad situation. … She overcame all these traumas, learned not to be afraid and to live like a normal dog.

Before Perry arrived, Meeka lived in a yard with little food and no love, Perry said. Perry adopted her from her former owner’s daughter, who saved Meeka from falling asleep.

She said that “the things Meeka overcame showed me that it could be done. … I’m extremely proud of her.

Teresa Perry, who likes to take Meeka to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach on their days off, says Meeka is her hero.

(Courtesy of Teresa Perry)

Although Perry adopted Meeka as a rescue, it was clear from the start that the estimated 4-year-old Meeka learned the basic commands well.

“Rescue dogs can also become working dogs,” Perry said. “The way she always stayed by my side, focused on me, and the way she was calm even when there was a squirrel or something” made her realize that Meeka could be a service dog – a dog trained to help people with disabilities.

Perry said she trained Meeka entirely on her own, following Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines for training service dogs.

She said she first taught Meeka how to perform deep pressure therapy, during which the dog would “lie down on my lap or on my chest, and she would stay there until I was ready. “.

From there, Meeka learned to “associate my elevated heart rate with a specific command, which for her taps my leg,” Perry said. Within three weeks, Meeka learned to alert Perry to an impending panic attack.

“If she senses that I’m not feeling too well, she’ll kick me, which signals me to sit down,” Perry said.

Perry also trained Meeka to “follow” Perry’s husband or friend to alert them to Perry’s need for help.

“One of the most interesting tasks I taught him was to bring me water,” Perry said.

Although Meeka is “not particularly driven by toys,” she is driven by towels, Perry said. “So I grabbed a dishcloth and…started playing with her with it. After a few weeks of bringing this back, I started [taping the towel] to a bottle of water. … Within a week, she brought it back to me.

Meeka's vest shows that she is a service dog.

Meeka’s vest shows that she is a service dog.

(Courtesy of Teresa Perry)

Perry said she started taking Meeka with her when she was “100% focused” on Perry.

Meeka accompanies Perry to shops and other public spaces, and Perry tries to figure out how to take Meeka to work with her, though a dog doesn’t fit easily into the workday of a kayak tour guide, he said. she declared.

Perry hopes to raise awareness about service dogs, saying people who bring emotional support animals and pets to public places “make it difficult for us to work” with service animals.

Pets are often distracted or aggressive toward other animals, she said. Some people carry fake ID cards to “prove” their animals’ service ability, when formal cards do not exist. Assistance dog identification is not required.

Meeka wears a vest to let others know she’s working, Perry said, even though it’s beyond the requirements.

Those who want to know if Meeka is a licensed service dog can only ask two questions, Perry said: “Is your animal a service animal?” and “What tasks has the animal been trained for?”

“A service dog is not going to bark, pull, snap at people, go to other dogs,” Perry said. “A true service dog will be calm and attentive to its handler.”

Having Meeka in his life means Perry is “able to go grocery shopping or … socialize and not feel awkward, worry [about] a panic attack,” she said.

But Meeka doesn’t always work, Perry said. She and her “hero” dog are often at the beach, “one of Meeka’s favorite places to relax”.

To vote for Meeka in the contest, visit bit.ly/Meeka2022.

Bette C. Alvarado