Sheila Robeck and Mobility Assist Dog Coal
By Tammy Waibel
Sheila Robeck of St. Michael, Minnesota smiles with delight as she speaks about her Mobility Assist Dog, Coal. While he has only been with her since July, he has made a dramatic impact on her life and her family’s.
Sheila, a C5-6 quadriplegic due to an auto accident in 2001, manages life with reduced range of motion in her shoulders and elbows, but very limited hand function. She uses a power wheelchair for mobility as well as adapted silverware, pens and a pointer for computer work but needed something more to help fill in the gaps.
She remembers driving by Can Do Canines over the years, discussing whether an assistance dog would be a good option for her. It was a chance meeting earlier this year when those thoughts became reality.
Her husband of 27 years, Mike, met a Can Do Canines Puppy Raiser and his puppy in training and stopped to ask about the process. They were a few years from becoming empty nesters and thinking the process could take up to 18 months, Sheila and Mike thought it was the perfect time to look into Can Do Canines. Sheila says the application process, home visit, and tour of the facility all happened quickly—and adds that her 15-year-old daughter loved it so much that she wanted to bring all the dogs home!
Soon they got the call that Sheila was matched with Coal, a Black Labrador Retriever. The family was hesitant at first about having a male dog because they had only ever had female dogs. But after meeting Coal, they all fell in love and knew he was the right match.
He fit in instantly with the family dynamics and even made a friend out of KoKo, the family’s seven-year-old Shih Tzu. Sheila laughs as she describes how well the two get along and how they entertain the family by playing “chase” around the couch. KoKo has even learned to follow the rule of waiting on the carpet when someone comes to the door instead of barking and charging the door.
With Coal in her life, Sheila feels less frustrated and more independent. Before him, she would have to wait for someone to come home and pick up what she dropped. Now she doesn’t worry about getting stuck without a needed piece of adapted equipment or her phone. Her family feels more at ease if she is home alone because Coal has his own phone he can retrieve in the event of an emergency. And her daily walks with Coal have even helped Sheila gain some strength, allowing her to operate her wheelchair longer.
“When I started working with Coal I thought he is so much better trained than me … I have a lot to learn,” says Sheila. “When he accompanies me out and about he is on his best behavior.” The team spends time practicing and training every day to maintain their skills and learn new things. “He has been such a blessing in the few months he’s been here,” says Sheila with emotion. “We continue to be a work in progress but are constantly getting better.”
Sheila sincerely thanks Puppy Raisers, handlers, and donors saying, “Thank you. You did an awesome job!” She appreciates his extensive training and is grateful for all the time people spent with him.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Erin Janke and Mike Kaufman
Puppy Raiser: The inmate handlers at FCI Duluth
Special Thanks: Christopher and Cheryl Gibbons
You: Thank you for your donations!