Dogs provide assistance to disabled islanders

Sherry Vinson’s life hasn’t been the same since she brought Luc home six years ago.

“Luc has really changed my life in a major way,” said Vinson, who has primary lateral sclerosis, a progressive disorder that affects her speech and mobility. “I was pretty isolated before. Luc has opened up my social wall.”

Luc, a golden retriever, came into Vinson’s world when he was two years old. He spent his early years being trained by Anacortes-based Summit Assistance Dogs, and in 2010, after two weeks of intensive one-on-one training, Luc came to live with Vinson at her home on Orcas.

“He kinda stole my heart,” said Vinson, who was matched with Luc after waiting several years for the perfect dog. “Luc is always there; he offers me companionship around the clock.”

Along with companionship, which Vinson says is the most important part of her relationship with Luc, he opens and closes doors for her, helps when she loses her balance or falls, picks up things she drops, pulls the laundry basket to the washer and more.

“We are committed to the success of our dogs and clients for the life of the partnership,” said Summit Founder and Executive Director Sue Meinzinger. “Needs can change over time, both for the human and for the dog.”

Summit prides itself on being able to focus attention on its clients and customize training for their needs, said Meinzinger. The organization also caters to young children.

“Recently, we’ve decided to specialize in training only mobility assistance dogs,” said Meinzinger. “Most organizations train a variety of different types of dogs (service, hearing, therapy), but we decided to specialize in just this one type of service dog so that we can become experts and leaders in the field.”

Another islander, Randall Dutton, is currently waiting to be matched with a dog from Summit. Dutton was born deaf and had a hearing dog when he was a teenager. At 25, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“I decided it was time for me to get an assistance dog,” said Dutton, who is now 43. “I will be getting a dog that will help with my balance and carrying things as my MS progresses. I will need more than just a hearing dog.”

Meinzinger says that Summit tries to have dogs available for clients, but some people may have a wait time.

“We aren’t able at this time to keep up with all the applications we are receiving,” said Meinzinger. “We’ve recently purchased 17 acres on Whidbey Island where we plan to build a training facility, and once that is complete we should be able to provide many more dogs for our waiting clients.”

Summit will be holding an informational event in the Madrona Room at Orcas Center on Nov. 6 from 3 to 6 p.m. Anyone interested in learning more about the program is invited to attend the presentation, which will be followed by wine tasting.

“I saw a wonderful opportunity to combine my passion for working with animals and my desire to help people by starting this organization,” said Meinzinger. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”