By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tim Turner from Oxford soon will have a new best friend.
The 40-year-old, who requires a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, will receive a canine assistant service dog that will be able to help him pick up dropped items, turn on lights, open doors and navigate more independently.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this,” said Turner, who completed the in-depth application process and has been waiting about three years to be matched. In addition to the companionship a dog offers, “it will give me more independence.”
On Thursday, Milk-Bone and Sam’s Club formally announced the service dog donation at an event at the Tupelo Sam’s Club. The partnership covers the $25,000 cost of training and caring for the service dogs, in addition to follow-up services after the dog is placed, said Ken Iuso, who works with Sam’s Club for DelMonte, which owns the Milk-Bone brand.
In the next six months to a year, Turner will go to Atlanta for matching and training with his dog.
“The dog actually will pick him,” said volunteer trainer Kellie Owens of Oxford, who brought Canine Assistant spokesdog Wettie, to show off what a trained service dog does for someone with a disability.
In that role, Wettie retrieved a water bottle from the floor during Thursday’s event demonstrating one of the basic Canine Assistant skills.
“That will be very helpful,” said Turner after Wettie dropped the bottle in his lap.
For her usual duties, Wettie visits school children to educate them about people with disabilities and the work of service dogs, in addition to participating in library reading programs, Owens said.
Milk-Bone and Sam’s Club have a long history of working with the Canine Assistants program. Over the past six years, they have covered the costs for 150 dogs, Iuso said. Canine Assistants has placed about 900 in its 14-year history.