Mystic’s more than man’s best friend

Published 1:07 am Friday, May 13, 2005

By By ERIN VER BERKMOES / Niles Daily Star
NILES - There are times when people are out in public and they see a person in a wheelchair who has a dog that seems to be helping them with their daily tasks. On Thursday morning sixth grade students at Brandywine Elementary learned what exactly those dogs can do.
Schaffer came to the school along with Niles resident Brad Barnett and his dog Mystic, a golden retriever and yellow lab mix. Barnett is a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair which he operates with his hands.
She told the students that if they have ever been out and seen a dog like this and asked the owner if they could pet it, and the owner said no, not to be surprised, because the dog is actually working and can't be distracted from what it should be doing.
Schaffer explained to the students some of the tasks that Mystic does for Barnett such as opening heavy doors and the refrigerator, picking up his house key and even the telephone.
Schaffer also talked about how at just eight weeks of age dogs in the Paws for a Cause program start their training. They are living with foster parents, who take the dog out into many different situations in public, to get them used to going out with the person they are placed with.
Schaffer next explained that at about 14 months the dogs go to the Paws with a Cause headquarters in Wayland and go through an extensive obedience school. Then they learn how to do the retrieving aspect of the job and finally learn how to pick up different objects.
Then the dogs are matched with someone who needs their services.
When Barnett and Mystic were placed together they had to take a test to ensure they would work well together. This test is retaken every 18 months.