A vigilant protector
It took a while for Phelps to acclimate to his companion’s constant attention to what he’s doing and where he’s going.
After only having Sam for a few days, Phelps forgot something out in his car and moved towards the door to go outside and get it. The dog calmly positioned himself in between Phelps and the door, blocking his exit. “It’s like he was a layer between me and the outside—he wouldn’t let me out the door without him,” Phelps says.
To Phelps, it’s as if the dog is paying 100 percent attention to him, and he’s not far off. The training facility he got Sam from—DogWish, Inc.—coaches their service dogs to give 95 percent of their attention to their handler. The other five percent is devoted to making sure their surroundings are safe.
Alzheimer’s service dogs can be trained to assist their cognitively-impaired handlers with a variety of different daily tasks, from alerting them when a stove is left on or an appliance plugged in, to helping them identify their car in a crowded parking lot, or their house if they get lost on a walk. These protective pooches are also trained to home in on their owner’s scent (Phelps had to send a trainer some of his old clothes so Sam could get used to his scent), enabling them to track an Alzheimer’s wanderer for miles.
A powerful (and playful) puppy
Sam seems to truly enjoy his role as canine caregiver.
Phelps is constantly awed by the various ways Sam helps him with everyday tasks. “He’s so good, it almost makes me sick,” he says. For instance, if Phelps goes to bed without putting on his Exelon (a commonly-prescribed Alzheimer’s medication) patch, the dog will come over and lick the spot where the patch is supposed to go.
Sam is still a puppy at heart though.
When Phelps takes off the dog’s working vest, all he wants to do is play. The playful pooch is also a critical source of companionship during the day while Phelps’ wife, Phyllis is out working.
Sam has given Phelps the opportunity to lead an engaged and fulfilling life in spite of his disease, and he didn’t even know that service dogs for people with Alzheimer’s disease existed until he was contacted by a caregiver through social media.
That’s why, when Phelps travels around the country conducting seminars and advocating for Alzheimer’s awareness, he brings Sam with him whenever he can. He wants to spread the word about the powerful impact these dogs can have.
Phelps believes everything happens for a reason. He is well aware of the vital role that Sam has played in helping him cope with an ailment that devastates so many families. “He’s not going to cure my disease, but he has certainly changed how I live my day-to-day life,” he says.