Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dogs Unleash Love on Arthritic Woman, Badly Injured Girl

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Dogs Unleash Love on Arthritic Woman, Badly Injured Girl

Article excerpt

Juanita Hagaman is job-hunting again despite crippling rheumatoid arthritis that has hampered her all of her 30 years. This time she's bringing her "best friend," who opens doors to buildings to let her wheelchair through, and picks up dropped pens, papers and even an occasional earring clasp.

Bridgette Crandell, 10, broke her skull in three places in a freak truck accident in 1992 and was in a deep coma several weeks. A new acquaintance in the head injury ward at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital visited her there regularly for touch therapy and helped bring her back to consciousness and a virtually complete recovery.

The friends were Zinnia and Sassy, respectively. They are dogs - very special ones - bred and trained by Support Dogs for the Handicapped, a United Way national organization based here.

"Zinni," as Hagaman calls her constant companion, is a 3-year-old female golden retriever from the agency's service dog program, which matches dogs with severely disabled persons. In the style of seeing-eye dogs, the animals are the hands, arms, legs and sometimes (as with earring clasps and other tiny objects) eyes.

"Ninety percent of Zinni's day is picking things up for me. That's my biggest problem with the arthritis," said Hagaman, who lives with her mother in Black Jack.

"I've had Zinni a year now. She goes everywhere with me and makes it physically possible for me to go.

"But she's also a great icebreaker on my job interviews," said Hagaman, who has experience as an accountant-bookkeeper.

The Crandell family - parents Roger and Bev and daughter Bridgette of Mulberry Grove, Ill. - have fond memories of Sassy, whose name is fitting. The large, cuddly, mixed-breed pooch sat patiently for hours as the little comatose girl's hands were rubbed all over her face and fur. Soon the awakening child was tossing a rubber ball that Sassy devotedly returned each time. …

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