By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March.3, 2012.
It happens all the time.
Jillian Rithchie and Flip go into a coffee shop and before long, everyone is looking at them.
Flip, a three-year old black Labrador, is Jillian’s assistance dog and the sight of him carrying a bag of cookies is often enough to turn heads and elicit warm smiles.
People also sidle up to Jillian and start talking about Flip.
“He has made me quite social. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore,” Jillian says, smiling.
Jillian Ritchie was diagnosed with a muscle disorder in 2000, and she has been in a wheelchair ever since then.
A few years ago, while coming back from Victoria on a ferry, she noticed someone in a wheelchair with an assistance dog.
Ritchie has had to depend on her family ever since she has been in a wheelchair, and wanted to take some pressure off them.
Back in Squamish, she applied for an assistance dog with the PADS, a non-profit organisation in Burnaby whose mission it is to breed, train and place assistance dogs for persons with a physical disability.
After going through rigorous checks and copious paperwork, Flip arrived in Squamish.
He has been here for only two years, but Ritchie says it’s hard for her to imagine life without Flip.
“We are like a mother and a kid, and he’s my little boy,” Ritchie says, smiling.
Flip helps her open doors, switch on switches, carry up to ten pounds for her, and brings back things to her that she has dropped.
But he is more than just a helper.
He is a great emotional support for her too.
Flip is a friend and a companion, and Ritchie says his love is unconditional.
“When I’m in pain, he will know that and he will come and nuzzle me,” she said.
“He’s just a huge support for me.”
But Ritchie must emotionally prepare for Flip’s retirement too, which will happen in another five years.
PADS will find a suitable home with either the dog’s puppy-raiser or another pre-screened family.
It’s not something Ritchie likes to think about.
“He’s my little boy, and that is not something that I’m really looking forward to.”