By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Carlene White of Ipswich, Massachusetts, probably doesn't view herself as an international celebrity, but to the 108 people with disabilities who have received one of her free, trained, Great Dane service dogs, she certainly seems one.
Before starting the nonprofit Service Dog Project in 2003, she owned Animal Episodes, a business providing animals for television commercials and movies, including the movies Good Will Hunting and The Witches of Eastwick.
In one sense, Service Dog Project began about 63 days after her Great Dane stud dog jumped a fence and impregnated three females, which created more than 20 Great Dane pups. In a telephone interview, 78-year-old White said, “That's when I realized my father (who died of Parkinson's disease) could have used one as a service dog. I had a friend with multiple sclerosis and I gave her one pup. I trained another dog for a friend who was deaf and had multiple sclerosis. That's when I realized I was good at this stuff.”
Service Dog Project now is an international phenomenon. Over the last 90 recorded days, for example, White said 4.7 million people had watched her Explore.org live camera feed that documents everything from puppy births to Dogfest, an annual gathering in which volunteers fly in to help pick up dog poop and have fun.
She said, “One recipient of a dog was Bella, a young girl, who was born with (a rare syndrome) in which her bones are not growing and her body is. When Bella was using a wheelchair on our grounds nine months ago, we found out she could walk with help from one of our demo dogs. So we trained George for her. She weighs 48 pounds and he weighs 150. As of yesterday, Bella was running across her yard by herself with George following. The doctors feel he was the cause for her improvement. She was out of her wheelchair and enjoying it, and George (now AKC Service Dog of the Year) keeps her bed warm, too. He's devoted to her.”
White, who has epilepsy, and whose late husband had Alzheimer's disease, also writes the newsletter Doggie Daily. Her nonprofit has 70 regular volunteers. Viewers send letters, which are read live. School children from all over make and send cardboard “poop pickers” to help. People with severe balance or mobility issues can apply for a Great Dane service dog through her website.
Facebook: Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance. [Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod and Palmer Bus Service.]