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More than four-legged friends: How animals are helping people with disabilities

(WBNG) — Animals help out humans every single day. But for some people who have physical disabilities, they have an extra impact.

Paula Bollen is a Southern Tier native. She graduated from Union-Endicott High School and went on to graduate from Binghamton University. Then… her world changed.

“The doctor came in, and with nobody around, told me,” said Bollen.

Paula was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“It’s a devastating disease. One of many,” she said. “It can take all your friends away because they’re at work and after work they’re tired. So who’s going to come over and visit? And I got lucky to have a best friend in Susanna.”

But then Paula was lucky enough to find another best friend.

She read an article mentioning Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that partners highly trained service dogs with people who have physical disabilities to help with everyday tasks.

She was first paired with a service dog named Lucas, then Euston, now she has Newcomb.

“And I couldn’t believe how my life changed,” said Bollen.

Newcomb helps with everything from retrieving items to opening doors, all to make life a little easier for Paula.

“He really does do so much for me, it’s hard to express,” Bollen said.

These animals who have the ability to help others come in all shapes and sizes.

Six-year-old James has cerebral palsy. He has been doing physical therapy since he was two months old, but once he started horseback riding a couple years ago, his life began to change.

“It took James a really long time to reach most milestones,” said James’ mom Jennifer Terry. “The more he’s been riding, the better his balance has become, the more he’s been able to walk and do those things.”

“He is utilizing the movement of the horse to help strengthen his core and his legs, and you saw his arms. He’s doing all kinds of great body work,” said owner of Fargnoli Farms Linda Fargnoli.

While many people may overlook the power of animals, they continue to prove how much of a physical impact they have on a person.

“I’m not really an animal person, so it’s not something that I’m drawn to or knew much about in the past. But I’m becoming more of an animal person as I see the benefit for James and how much he loves being here,” said Terry.

These animals also have an emotional impact.

“They have senses of humor, they understand our emotions, they know when we need them,” said Fargnoli.

“He works so hard for me and he knows when I’m down, if I’m laying on my bed, he’s on the bed,” said Bollen.

Because these animals don’t see a disability, they see a forever friend.

It’s important to note service dogs are expertly trained and are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That’s completely different than therapy and other types of working dogs. So when you see a service dog in public, remember to ask before approaching it and petting it.

For more information on Canine Companions for Independence, click here.

For more information on Kali’s Klubhouse and Fargnoli Farms, click here.

Annie Flaherty

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