While the world once felt like it was crumbling around her, Erin Rudd has found a life-changing support system in her service dog, Ancaster.
“He gives me back life, the ability to do things I didn’t even realize I stopped doing,” Rudd said.
The mother-of-two has had experienced worsening symptoms of cerebral palsy over the past several years, causing several painful falls.
“Before I got Ancaster it was, on average, three times a month,” Rudd explained. “It was getting dangerous. Even just stepping off a curb was dangerous. I lost all of my balance.”
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that can affect muscle tone and control, as well as fine motor skills. It’s affected Rudd’s balance to a point where she is not comfortable with a cane.
The final straw came after a particularly hard fall when Rudd was dropping her then-five-year-old sons off at a day camp.
“I was in the middle of the roadway when I fell. If I fall next to something, I have the upper body strength to pull myself up with my arms, but I don’t have the leg strength anymore,” Rudd said. “They tried to help, but definitely were not strong enough, and neither one of them would leave. I said ‘okay, you stay, you go get help’. They kept saying ‘no, mommy’. So we started talking with the doctor about something that would make life more safe.”
After some research, Rudd became approved by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, and was flown with her husband to Oakville, ON for several weeks of service dog training.
After a few days, she was matched with Ancaster, a young black Labrador. Ancaster would accompany Rudd at all times, a vigorous learning process for a pair that simply didn’t speak each other’s language yet. Rudd particularly remembers one of their first mornings where she was trying to retrieve a pair of pants from a low drawer.
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“I was struggling, and he was right beside me, and he’s looking at me, looking at my pants, and then back at me, as if to say ‘come on, give me the code and I’ll do it’,” Rudd laughed. “I looked at him and I laughed and said ‘I don’t know the words yet buddy, you’ve got to wait’.”
Now two years old, Ancaster can pick things up off the floor, help Rudd balance while walking, and open doors and drawers. He can even detect when Rudd might start suffering from episodes of severe pain, caused by a concussion she sustained in 2010.
“He actually pins me to a chair and can tell me five minutes before it’s going to happen,” Rudd said. “The doctors can’t figure out what’s triggering it, but he can tell me they’re going to happen.”
After nearly a year together, Rudd says she’s gotten her life back, and she hopes to help someone else in the same way.
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“Each service dog to train, raise and place with somebody costs $25,000, and the people that receive the guide dog, it’s given to them completely free,” Pet Valu manager Ariel Wesa noted.
Rudd is aiming to raise that amount for another family’s service dog by the time Ancaster retires seven years from now.