Gabrielle Giffords’ New Leash on Life

Former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords partnered with specially trained service dog from America's VetDogs.

Photo from ABC NewsAmerica’s VetDogs is proud to have placed a specially trained service dog with former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

America first saw “Nelson” on January 8, when Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, were interviewed on the second anniversary of the shooting in Arizona that wounded the congresswoman and 12 others, and left six people dead.

Giffords suffered severe traumatic brain injuries, which left her with speech and mobility issues. In the two years since that day, she has made a remarkable recovery, which will be enhanced by Nelson, her service dog from America’s VetDogs.

Kelly reached out to VetDogs to determine how a service dog could make a positive impact on his wife’s continuing rehabilitation, and after a visit to the VetDogs campus, Giffords applied and was accepted to the program. Nelson was placed in October, and Giffords and the dog have been learning how to work together as a team in the months since.

“Gabby Giffords is an inspiration,” says Wells Jones, CEO of America’s VetDogs. “She has made amazing progress after the injuries she has suffered and has retained a positive outlook. We’re proud to be able to serve such a courageous woman.”

The key to creating a successful working team is the matching process. Skill set, temperament, and personality are vital components to ensure that the right dog is teamed with the right person. After the matching process, the bonding phase and learning how to work as a team is critical. Nelson has been specifically trained for Giffords’ needs to help mitigate her remaining disabilities. As with any recipient, VetDogs worked with Giffords and her caregivers to determine the tasks that would be most beneficial to her. Nelson’s placement was kept low-key to give them this important time together.

While VetDogs endeavors to make waiting times as short as possible, these can vary depending on an individual’s needs and preferences. Nelson came through VetDogs’ prison puppy program, in which inmates raise pups for about a year. During that time, inmates housebreak the pups, teach basic obedience, and start to work on general service-related tasks. During formal training, specific tasks are fine-tuned and refined for an individual’s particular needs.

Giffords is a high-profile personality and makes numerous public appearances, which include rallies, fundraisers, parades, and Congressional hearings. In certain situations, it may not be appropriate for her to be accompanied by Nelson; that is an individual decision made by each handler because the safety of the dog and handler is always paramount.

America’s VetDogs provides service dogs that can help recipients by performing tasks such as opening and closing doors, cabinets and drawers, turning on and off light switches, providing counterbalance support as a person walks or climbs stairs, “calling for help” (barking) if the person falls and can’t get up, retrieving items, alerting to seizures and also reacting to high or low blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.

To learn more about America’s Vet Dogs, click here.

Article Categories: