Sara (Sally) Williams and Mobility Assistance Dog Wilbur
Author: Bobb Elsenpeter
Sara Williams a.k.a. Sally is no stranger to the challenges of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). But in spite of the disease, she meets life on her own terms. Sally and her husband, Jerry, live in Two Rivers, WI: Sally is a retired medical lab technician. As a retiree, Sally uses her time and energy for quilting, taking daily walks, gardening, cooking, attending church, and going out with friends.
Unfortunately, MS causes significant fatigue, so Sally relies on the use of a power chair to get around at home and in public. For six years Sally also relied on the services of her assistance dog, Dash, a calm, friendly Golden Retriever from the Northeast Wisconsin Service Dog organization. Sadly, Dash became ill and passed away in August 2016. Sally was dependent on Dash for help throughout her day and reached out to Can Do Canines for a successor dog since the Northeast Wisconsin Service Dog organization was no longer in operation.
After a short wait of about four months Sally was matched with Mobility Assist Dog Wilbur, a fun-loving, hard-working Labrador Retriever. Sally is a busy woman and Wilbur found many ways to help; Sally depends on Wilbur to retrieve dropped items, tug her walker to her, help with light switches, opening & closing doors and drawers, retrieving the phone in case of emergency, and even opening & closing the footrests on Sally’s power chair. Although Wilbur has a lot to do, he finds his work fun and does it with gusto, especially working with the foot rests! Sally observes, “He really goes crazy over those foot pedals! It’s like, ‘I can’t do this fast enough’!”
Wilbur’s work doesn’t just help Sally, Jerry benefits too. The help Wilbur provides Sally enables her to be independent, relying less on Jerry. According to Jerry, “Wilbur is a big help to me, too, by helping Sally he frees me up to do other things—I’m always fixing something.”
Wilbur is a wonderful helper, but it took a lot of hard work before he and Sally became a team. Since Two Rivers is on the eastern edge of Wisconsin (along the shores of Lake Michigan) it was difficult for Sally and Jerry to travel to Can Do Canines for frequent training. The Williams were able to spend a week at the facility training with Wilbur. Can Do Canines also arranged for a trainer in the Williams’ area to continue the training with Sally and Wilbur when the team returned home.
The end result of her hard work was a strong bond with herself and Wilbur. “The best part was getting Wilbur to act like I was his person,” Sally says. Since returning home, they continued training in the environment that Wilbur would encounter every day. “We made it a point to go to Kohl’s,” Sally says. “It’s a busy department store, it has really shiny, slick floors, so that’s a good thing for Wilbur to learn about picking the credit card off the slick floor.”
Sally notes she still anticipates people will be shocked to see a service dog in Two Rivers. Yet, to her surprise, more people know how to act around Wilbur than she expected. “One of the things that always surprises me,” Sally says, “is if you’re in a grocery store and there’s a mother with a child in a cart, she’ll say, ‘Now, that’s a dog you can’t pet, because he’s working.’ I’m surprised that people realize that.”
The initial training is behind them and now it is up to Sally and Wilbur to maintain what they have learned. As they prepare to graduate from training, Sally has some advice to share. She says, “Be patient; the end result is worth it. If you have the patience and endurance to really give what it takes, then having a service dog is wonderful!”
Sally and Jerry also have some special words of thanks. “We want to thank Can Do Canines,” Jerry says, “after losing Dash we thought we would have to wait two years, but it was less than six months; that is really a blessing for a person who is already used to the dog’s help.”
The couple also recognizes and appreciates the efforts of Can Do Canines’ volunteers and donors. Sally observes, “It is unbelievable that they make it possible for me, and others like me, to receive a service dog. Thank you!”
Thank you all for making teams like Sally and Mobility Assist Dog Wilbur possible!
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser – Karin Balgaard
Special Thanks – The Inmate Handlers at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Faribault
Field Trainer – Myron Genrich