There’s a New Role for Man’s Best Friend

Created: 2013-03-11 12:42 EST

Category: Life

Now dogs can also be man’s savior when it comes to dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease That’s the mission of the canines enlisted in the Alzheimer’s Aid Dogs project, a program that pairs up people suffering from the disease with four-legged caregivers

The dogs are trained to alert others if their owner is in distress, call for help or simply find them and lead them home if they get lost.

Yehuda was the pilot patient for the program. He’s had his dog Bella for 11 years.

[Yehuda, Alzheimer’s Patient]:
"It gave me and my wife peace of mind. It meant that i could go out without being afraid that i would get lost. And she's so smart that she gives me the desire to cope."

The project is the brainchild of Dafna Golan-Shemesh, a social worker with expertise in caring for Alzheimer’s patients and her partner Yariv Ben-Yosef, a professional dog trainer

Twelve years ago, they came up with the idea of giving people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the chance to live a safer, more normal life.

[Dafna Golan-Shemesh, Social Worker and Director of Alzheimer’s Patients Care Center Hod Hasharon]:
'We're talking about people who are in the beginning and middle stages of diseases...
All research shows that people who are active...It will slow the disease a lot...All that will help the person live, first of all a better life, much higher quality of life, and for a longer time."

It took 2 years to find the right dog breed and the right training

American-born Myrna Shiboleth, a professional dog breeder with 42 years experience was brought on board. She chose the Smooth Collie, a shepherd dog, as the ideal breed.

[Myrna Shiboleth, Dog Breeder]:
"They're very loving...On the other hand they are tough, they don't get insulted if you shout at them, they don't walk away if the Alzheimer's patient gets angry...they can take it and keep on working."

The careful selection process starts when the puppies are 6 weeks old, and they undergo an intensive 18-month training program

So far, 12 dogs have been matched with Alzheimer’s patients.

The program is funded privately by patients’ families, and at $15,000 dollars - it’s an expense not everyone can afford.

The team is now setting up a second training center for service dogs in Melbourne, Australia, where the government has shown interest.

For them, this is the first step to setting up training centers and helping Alzheimer’s patients across the world - with the help of a team of well trained four legged friends.