VERY FEW DOGS can help an owner in a hundred ways, but Timer can. This 4-year-old black Labrador retriever helps her owner, Sherrill Horn, who is dependent upon a wheelchair.
Timer is a Phydeaux's for Freedom graduate, a support dog trained to obey as many as 100 commands. She is Horn's constant companion, and helps her get up if she falls, opens doors for her and retrieves objects.
Horn, 47 was a pediatric nurse who worked at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. for 10 years before she became disabled in the mid-'80s, "after seven operations could not correct a spinal curvature," she says.
Even before she got Timer, Horn volunteered her time to Phydeaux's, a non-profit organization located at the Applewoods Dog Center, Inc., in Laurel, where donated dogs are trained to support the deaf and hearing-impaired or those with physical disabilities.
The organization, one of several support dog groups in the area, was founded in 1987 by Margot Woods, who is its executive director. She is also a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the animal organization Delta Society, and is president of the Applewoods Dog Center, Inc.
Timer, says Horn, was donated by trainer Dotty Bruff in Virginia. Bruff had trained Timer for field titles and then donated her to Phydeaux's where she was matched to Horn.
"Sometime I think she might like to run in the woods again," says Horn, "but I keep her so active. We are always together doing fun and everyday things such as going to the grocer, stopping for gas [Horn has a specially equipped van], going shopping at the mall and to volunteer in the office at Phydeaux's.
"Timer is my constant companion but the support dog is not trained to protect," Horn explains. "Recently, at the airport picking up my sister from Boston, we discovered that those in wheelchairs must be [searched] by the security guards to determine if they have anything illegal on them. I motioned Timer to lay down and she accepted this and waited," says Horn, whose sister came for the Phydeaux's graduation ceremonies at the Greenbelt Marriott last month. Timer and Horn, along with 13 other graduates, were honored.
At home, Horn has two other pets, a 5-year-old cocker spaniel named Katie and a 12-year-old Siamese cat named Ling. She is also keeping a Phydeaux's dog currently in training.
The organization seeks volunteers to keep dogs that are being trained. Horn is taking care of Mickey D., a small 14-month-old Papillon. "He is my foster dog and being trained at the center as a hearing ear assistant," she says. "I keep him busy so he doesn't lose the skills he is learning."
Hearing support dogs like Mickey D. will learn to alert deaf owners to doorbells, fire alarms, telephone rings, cars approaching and other common sounds.
At every level of training, which goes from all obedience levels to task specifics in approximately two years, the Phydeaux's dogs are evaluated and are not accepted to begin work with an applicant unless they are reliable.
Those who apply for a support dog must have a physician's approval to participate. If accepted, they are matched to a dog in training and must attend a three-week training camp in addition to being trained at malls and on the streets. The dogs and their owners are evaluated every six months for the first two years, then tested and recertified every three years.
Phydeaux's is funded by donations, contributions and grants from individuals and organizations. The cost to train a support dog could be $3,500 to $10,000 but the cost to recipients is $150.
For more information, contact Phydeaux's for Freedom at 1 Main St., Laurel, 20707; or call (301) 498-6779.