Animal Rescue of Fresno: At Your Service, Dogs for the Disabled

 By Wendy Hunter

 Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend. —Corey Ford

Many years ago, I was a married-type person, living in the small Bay Area town of Alameda. I was dwelling in a charming little bungalow with my soon-to-be-ex-husband, and my terrier tripod dog Hap. A sweet SPCA rescue dog, Hap was named after Audrey Hepburn’s last role in the movie, Always. It’s a delightful film about love, death, heaven, believing in miracles, and grocery shopping in your sleep. It’s the kind of feel-good movie we could all use right now, so if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly. My Hap wasn’t always a tripod, and when I told my husband I was going to have her leg amputated due to cancer, he sympathetically told me HE didn’t want a tripod dog. Which is why, soon thereafter, I ditched the husband, and kept the dog. A fair trade, indeed. People often feel sorry for dogs with disabilities, assuming they miss out on so many things, and don’t live the best life possible. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in Hap’s case. You’ve never seen a sight quite as joyful as a three-legged dog racing down the sidewalk at breakneck speed, pink tongue flying in the wind, ears flapping like a hummingbird’s wings. Unfurl that checkered flag!

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Now if you’re a disabled human, traversing the ups and downs of everyday life can be a bit challenging. This is where a properly trained Service Dog can be a real asset, making daily functions easier, while providing some much needed companionship. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Which means that no two Service Dogs are alike, and these tasks are directly related to their owner’s disability. It also means that both dog and owner form a tight bond over the years, and rely on each other for strength and stability. And in many cases, disabled people cannot imagine their life without a dog by their side. 

One such person is Cerise Richardson, who has been permanently disabled for the past eleven years. In the last two years alone, she has endured three back surgeries and a knee operation. Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant in her early twenties, Cerise believes all the heavy lifting she did on the graveyard shift was the recipe for a very weak back. Enter Baby, a beautiful reddish-brown Spaniel mix, with sparkling eyes and a tender heart. She also just happens to be an ARF rescue dog, who took the Saving Train up to Oregon for a fresh start. She had no idea how her life would change, or how much she would change the life of Cerise. Let the love story begin...

Once upon a time, many moons ago, Cerise was the owner of another Service Dog, Milo. He was a Basenji mix, and just a year old when he was rescued. Milo learned quickly, and because he wasn’t much of a barker, he easily slipped into his role of becoming a Service Dog. Cerise and Milo were partners for thirteen years, until he crossed over The Rainbow Bridge on November 6, 2020. Cerise says that after Milo passed, “I realized how much having a Service Dog helped me. You don’t realize until they’re gone.” 

Baby and Cerise

As an Oregon resident, Cerise reached out to the good people at SoHumane in Medford, our Saving Train connection. They began to help her in locating another Service Dog, and mentioned the dogs from ARF. Baby was the first of three dogs that Cerise was scheduled to meet at SoHumane. She says, “When Baby walked up to me, I asked her to sit and she did immediately. I was surprised!” Baby was officially adopted on December 12, 2020. A couple days later, Cerise began Baby’s training, and she has not disappointed. Cerise eagerly says that “Milo was my lifeblood, Baby is my lifesaver. She is quickly becoming my lifeblood.” Like Milo, she is mellow and not a barker, making for the perfect Service Dog. Being protective of her owner, she has only barked once, after just five days in her new home. Watch out peeps, there’s a new Sheriff in town…

A bit of Baby’s background: she and several other dogs were rescued by ARF from a tragic situation. You may recall my last article on Roxanne and her adorable puppies; Baby was another one of the dogs living in that home. She may be a rescue dog herself, but now she has rescued someone else. Cerise said it only took her a month to train Baby, and she is absolutely amazing. “She knows all the basic commands, how to fetch/retrieve, and how to heel. She also makes the perfect companion, considering she is three years old and I’m in my early 60’s.” For Cerise, it’s important that Baby can now accompany her into stores and other public places, as she also deals with the crippling effects of PTSD and severe anxiety. With regard to her daily tasks, Cerise says Baby easily completes all of them. Depending on what type of disability a person has, they may need a physician’s letter of recommendation to obtain a Service Dog. The letter would state exactly what specific tasks the dog is required to master to provide the needed assistance. Cerise says her doctor has met Baby and seen her in action. In her opinion, Cerise feels a rescue is the best for a Service Dog.  “They need to feel needed, not just wanted.”

For Cerise, one of the many benefits of having Baby is that, “She keeps me walking. She is my motivation not to EVER GIVE UP! No matter how many surgeries I may need, she will always keep me walking.” Baby is also quite the love bug, and whether it’s napping on the couch, or in bed at night, she always has to sleep with one paw on Cerise. Baby is also popular with the neighbors in their apartment complex, and they are very attracted to her eyes. One neighbor said, “It looks like Baby can see into your soul.” I’m not so sure about the other dogs in the complex though. Apparently, when they bark at her, she marches straight up to them, and they immediately stop. Nobody puts Baby in a corner!


Cerise cannot say enough wonderful things about her girl, and you can tell it’s a match made in heaven. “She has brought me so much joy, it is hard to explain. That may sound strange, but there’s nothing like a companion who gives unconditional love. No human can ever say that. That is one of the most rewarding things with any animal, but especially a rescue, who soaks up the love like it was everything.” Cerise continues, “She’s not just a Service Dog, she’s not just a rescue; she truly goes far beyond that label. She is my companion and she has become my life.” Oh my, are you passing the tissues yet?    

 My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet. —Edith Wharton  

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section on Kings River Life, and the Pets section here on KRL News & Reviews. Check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue. Learn more about ARF on their website.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for four years. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.


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