Dog proves to be best friend for Parkinson's sufferer
December 29, 1997
Some dogs are even trained to pull wheelchairs
Web posted at: 1:01 p.m. EST (1801 GMT)
From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
ATLANTA (CNN) -- More than a million Americans are believed
to suffer from Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder
that gradually steals their independence, slowing them down
with stiffened muscles and even episodes of tremors.
While prescription drugs can improve some of the symptoms,
they don't prevent patients from falling. But dogs are
learning to do what medicine can't for these patients.
Lou Paulmier, who has been battling Parkinson's disease for
almost 30 years, had to give up a coaching and teaching
career because of the disease. In addition to tremors and
stiffness, Lou has another common Parkinson's symptom called
"freezing:" his feet freeze in place while he's trying to
walk. Because the rest of his body keeps moving, it causes
him to fall.
Dr. Matthew Stern of Pennsylvania Hospital wanted to find a
way for patients to stay on the move.
"These patients tend to become very sedentary, very
reclusive," Stern said. "Our desire was to try and enable
them to be more independent."
Paulmier with his dog
Stern turned to Independence Dogs Inc., a group that trains
dogs to assist people with disabilities. The dogs can turn
on light switches, open doors and pull wheelchairs. This is
the first time they've trained to help Parkinson's patients.
"Out of every dog that comes in here, I'd say a good third
could fit the bill," said Jean King, the founder and CEO of
Melek, whose name means "Angel" in Turkish, was one of the
dogs that passed the test. Her name has been appropriate:
In a matter of weeks, she transformed Paulmier into an active
"I really do think she's an angel. I find myself often
praying for little miracles and I would say this is a little
miracle," Marge said.
At Lou's cue, Melek can break his freeze by simply touching
his foot -- doctors don't know why -- and he can continue
walking. If he does fall, she's there to help him up.
Lou is adapting to his new partner. "I'm beginning to think
that she thinks she is supposed to care for me," he said.
"She's supposed to be in charge when I have trouble."
But already, his wife says, the dog has made a difference in
their lives. "She's made him more acceptable," she said.
"Or maybe people just recognize the fact that he really is