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Gillis and I are in our local newspaper!!!! Here's pics that didn't make it on the Tacoma News Tribune's website.

All photos are copyright 2000, The Tacoma News Tribune.

This is Gillis, a 20 month old Doberman Pinscher, and his owner/trainer, Dana Marshall. Marshall, of Prairie Ridge, has Cerebral Palsy and has trained Gillis to be her service dog. It's a relationship she advocates for others with disabilities.

Gillis is responding to Dana Marshall's command to 'brace' - to hold steady so she can push herself off him to climb into her wheelchair. This is part of Gillis' ongoing training with Marshall at Paws-Abilities in Tukwila.

A woman's very best friend

Dana Marshall trained her own service dog - and now is telling the world about it


Bill Hutchens;

East Pierce County

Dana Marshall doesn't let her cerebral palsy get in the way.

"My limbs are affected," she said. "I can walk very little. When I do, it's usually with crutches, a walker or someone else. I use a wheelchair mostly."

But the Prairie Ridge resident has some extra help both around the house and around town from a four-legged friend she trained herself, and she's working to educate other disabled people about how to do the same.

Marshall's 20-month old male Doberman pinscher, Gillis, is a specially trained service dog.

Service dogs often act as protectors, warning systems and "go-fors," Marshall said. They're usually very defensive when it comes to their loved ones and can often learn to bark warnings for various dangers, such as impending seizures.

Around the house, Gillis is conditioned to pick up items Marshall drops and fetch things she needs. He helps her get up if she falls, helps her get undressed at bedtime and can assist in opening and closing doors. And when it's time to go out, Gillis, who already stands 30 inches tall and is still growing, will often pull Marshall in her wheelchair.

Service dogs can learn to respond to certain situations immediately, sensing what their caregivers need and acting without being commanded to perform a task.

"The other day I spilled a whole drawer full of silverware," Marshall said. "Gillis just came right over and picked up every piece. Of course he gave me that look like he was saying, 'Now, why'd you do that?'"

When Gillis was a mere 8 months old, he came to Marshall's aid once when she fell.

"Before I could even maneuver, he stooped down to brace me up," she said.

Gillis knelt down to provide support for her so she could lift herself up.

"I didn't even have to tell him. He just figured it out."

When Marshall goes out, Gillis goes with her, wearing either his big red or green backpack so he can carry all of his friend's necessities - wallet, house keys, checkbook, anything else she might need. On shopping days, Gillis can carry as much as 20 pounds of groceries in his pack.

Marshall got Gillis from a breeder when he was 7 weeks old and began training him using techniques learned from books and at the Paws-Ability service dog training center in Tukwila.

Gillis gets his name from a popular old TV show, "as in, 'This is my dobie, Gillis,'" Marshall said, referring to "Dobie Gillis" which starred Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver.

Marshall believes in sharing information and has set up an elaborate Web site to point other disabled people toward service dogs.

"I started my own site because it seemed like people didn't realize they could train their own dogs," she said. "I firmly believe that if you're disabled you can train your own dog."

Sometimes disabled people wait for years to get a dog that has been trained by another person or agency, she said.

"Why not do it yourself instead?"

In addition to her comprehensive Web site and her dog training sessions at Paws-Abilities, Marshall has been working to change laws in order to "get people into places without being bothered."

She worked on a panel that advised lawmakers about changes that needed to be made in the state's Revised Criminal Code. Because of that panel, RCW 49.60 allows service dogs to accompany their owners into any public place, so long as the dog is specially trained to mitigate that person's disability.

Marshall also tries to educate business owners about their rights concerning the issue.

For instance, she lets proprietors know that they can ask disabled patrons to leave their stores if their service animals pose a danger to other customers.

"These dogs are supposed to be invisible," she said.

Marshall was born in Renton but grew up in Buckley at the home where her parents have now lived for 31 years.

After several years of living in King County, she recently moved back to Pierce County with her husband.

She said she's never had any trouble with access to Pierce County businesses but, "when I lived in King County, I would be told, 'No dogs allowed,' every other day. In Pierce County, no one has said a word."

Her vast Web site provides much information about these issues and many others. She describes how people should treat guide and service dogs when they encounter them - not calling the dogs or distracting them.

There are links to service dog training books for sale at Amazon.com. There are pages of information about state laws based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as a place to download RCW 49.60 and a section of the Washington Administrative Code that deals with treatment of the disabled.

Marshall said she's aware of only one other site on the Internet that offers information about service dogs. And she says she's happy to provide the resource.

"These dogs generally make good friends," she said. "I hope I can connect more disabled people to them."

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* Staff writer Bill Hutchens is a Your Town correspondent. Reach him at 253-941-9636 or bill.hutchens@mail.tribnet.com.

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SIDEBAR: For more information about training service dogs, go to Dana Marshall's Web site at danawheels.simplenet.com.

Copyright © 2000 The Tacoma News Tribune

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