No Average Job: SIT Service Dogs

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By WSIL Manager

AVA -- This week we head to Ava to meet a couple whose daily work with dogs is not only their job, but their life passion. As you'll see what these special canines do for their owners is "No Average Job."

The life of a traumatic brain injury patient is often filled with confusion and memory problems, but things like a laugh and a smile can be rare experiences.

Mike is a 28-year-old Navy veteran who requires constant supervision.

He had just joined the Cairo Police Department in 2010, a week before a drive home through an ice storm changed his life forever. Mike lost control of his car and hit a tree head-on.

His therapists say he struggles with short term memory loss and often forgets what is talked about in sessions. The one thing he does remember are the visits from his four-legged friends.

Bringing therapeutic joy to people like Mike is just one of the many reasons Lexi Dietz and husband, Daniel Bradley, started their business three years ago.

Combining her 12 years of experience with service dogs, and his financial expertise, the two make a pretty good team.

"It's never dull, we get up at 5:30 every morning," said Lexi.

Tucked away on a country road in Ava, SIT Service Dogs trains pups to help humans who need them most.

"I really wanted to do something where dogs and people are at their best," Lexi explained.

These furry cuties are more than just companions. The name alone explains a greater purpose. SIT stands for Supporting Independence Through Teamwork.

Robyn will be a seizure response dog. She'll be able to recognize a seizure, push a button for help, and roll her owner to prevent choking.

"Some dogs have a really good sense of smell and they're sniffing everything as puppies, and we look for their abilities," Lexi said.

Once they identify the dogs' strengths, they're able to target their training.

Those with a strong sense of smell will be diabetic alert dogs. They can detect and alert their owners about dangerous blood sugar levels.

Then there's some like Matthew that will end up being mobility dogs, because they are always picking things up.

Mobility dogs not only pick things up for their people, they can also turn lights on and off and even pull a wheelchair in an emergency situation.

But all these amazing skills take time to learn. Each dog trains for about 18 to 24 months, seven days a week, and the training starts early.

"We start on day 3 with neurostimulating exercises. It's a program that the military developed where you turn the puppy over, you expose to a warm rag, a cool rag, that kind of thing," Lexi explained.

The dogs train two hours each day, and the time is broken down into small chunks with playtime mixed in between.

If at first they don't succeed. they try and try again and again.

It's all in a days work, in a job that's more like a lifestyle, but Lexi and Daniel say they are living their dream job.

"There's just people that need assistance that a person cannot be there for, and it's just nice to see someone's face light up and be able to have their independence back," said Daniel Bradley.

It's a fact that makes saying goodbye to every furry graduate just a bit easier for Lexi and Daniel.

A fulfilling knowledge that they're changing people's lives, one dog at a time.

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