Service dog makes life easier for woman with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

OCEANSIDE — Having a service dog has made a significant, and positive impact to Diana Struphers.

Struphers said her service dog, Marvin, gives her confidence, security and helps her live life fully.

“He has given a lot of life back to me, I didn’t realize how much until he came into my life,” Struphers said.

Struphers was born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which also affects her mother, sister and son. The nerve disease limits mobility and produces chronic pain.

Its impact varies from person to person, and becomes progressively worse over time.

Struphers has had seven surgeries as a child to combat the disease’s effects.

She can still walk with the aid of a brace, but has no muscle below her knee. She is also starting to experience nerve and muscle loss in her hands.

Struphers managed Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease while raising two sons, and keeping up a 25-year career as a pediatric intensive care nurse.

However in recent years the disease has caught up with her.

She retired from nursing in 2003 because she said she felt her physical and mental response times might no longer be fast enough for job demands.

Then two years ago, after her youngest son left for college, she decided she could use a service dog to help her get through daily tasks.

“With my sons both out of the house I felt I needed someone here, and applied online,” said Struphers.

Struphers applied to Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside. She went through a verbal and in-person interview to determine her needs, and was soon on the waiting list for a dog.

The Oceanside campus is one of six national training centers.

Since Struphers lives in Oceanside she was also put on a stand-by list, in the event someone selected for a service dog could not go forward with training and dog ownership.

Struphers got a call in June that 17, 2-year-old, trained dogs were ready to be paired with individuals in need.

Her dog Marvin is a labrador, golden retriever mix.

Like all Canine Companions service dogs Marvin was specifically bred, socialized and trained for service.

Before Struphers took Marvin home she spent two weeks on campus with him, to learn commands and specific dog care.

Now the pair has been together for five months.

Marvin helps carry things up and down stairs in Struphers’ two-story house, and sits in the backyard to watch hummingbirds with her as she drinks coffee.

“We’re attached at the hip, he’s a really good, well trained dog,” Struphers said.

Struphers does her part to care, feed, exercise and practice commands with Marvin.

“I have to work with him every day, 15 minutes, twice a day, it’s good for me and him,” Struphers said.

Marvin, in turn, goes everywhere with Struphers, and has become her 24/7 companion.

They both take part in Struphers’ weekly volunteer hospice work, in which they visit terminally ill patients in long-term care facilities. Struphers said with Marvin by her side she stays an hour longer because everyone wants to see him.

They have also rode the train together, and Struphers has a plane trip planned this summer to see her older son in Michigan.

She said her training at Canine Companions taught her best practices and protocol while traveling with a service dog.

Struphers credits the nonprofit for looking out for the best interest of service dogs and individuals in need. She will return to the campus with Marvin for a yearly check-in to ensure they’re doing well.

Canine Companions is a nonprofit that is funded through donations to provide service dogs free of charge.

It costs $50,000 to fund a service dog from breeding, to raising, training and follow up services.

The local Canine Companions campus has placed 52 assistance dogs this year. Nationally 356 dogs were paired with individuals in need.


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