Dogs provide the best sort of therapy for those in need

MALAYSIA - There is plenty of laughter and happiness nowadays in one of the most popular disabled training outfits in Rawang, Selangor, called the Independent Living and Training Centre (ILTC).

And it is no secret as to who is creating the smiles.

It's the latest "member" to join in the self-help disabled organisation situated in the quiet neighbourhood of Taman Garing. It's not a disabled person - but a dog.

Meet Toto, a bright and spunky three-month-old mongrel, which was rescued recently from the streets in Petaling Jaya.

"When Toto came into our lives a couple of months ago, it was like a dream come true not only for my husband and I, but for all of the half dozen physically-disabled residents in our home," says Gurdip Kaur, better known as Rina, who serves as secretary to the ILTC.

"Toto has brought back all the fond memories of our previous service dog, Dusty, the Golden Retriever who died two years ago," explained Rina, who has been using a wheelchair for nearly two decades.

Rina spotted a picture of Toto on a dog adoption list on the Internet and immediately fell in love with the pup.

She wasted no time in getting her tetraplegic husband, Francis Siva, who has been paralysed for 25 years, to drive from Rawang to Subang Jaya, to bring Toto safely back to his new home.

Today, there is no part of ILTC that Toto doesn't light up each time the furry little creature enters a room.

Toto loves all the residents. Their wheelchairs and walking sticks are no obstacles to him getting close enough to give them a "happy new day" lick on their hands or faces.

"It was so exciting to go shopping for Toto to get his food and proper utensils that go along with it," Rina recalls.

"It sure beats just sitting around and thinking about our disabilities and our problems," she adds.

However, the part that Rina enjoys the most is how the marvellous mongrel has bonded with her so quickly. Toto loves to cuddle up with the couple in bed before he retires to his own crate for the night in their bedroom.

Toto also relishes his baths because he knows he has to "look good" to welcome visitors to the centre.

Toto never leaves Rina alone for one minute. He follows her wheelchair everywhere and even loves sleeping under it at every opportunity.

Both Siva and Rina reveal they have been ever so happy since Toto came into their lives.

"Our little boy just gives us the 'oomph' to carry on with each day."

Therapy/Service dog

The young puppy will soon be enrolling with the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association to become a therapy/service dog graduate for its loving guardians. And that will be another tale to tell for another day.

Meanwhile, Zhar, my latest service canine candidate, turned 15 months old a few weeks ago. This is the ideal age to start intensive training and the Doberman has been passing with flying colours.

His ability to pick up a variety of objects and bring them to me has even surpassed that of my previous Golden Retriever which died last year of old age.

The young Dobie refuses to sit still. Whether it is in the bedroom or the bathroom, Zhar is ever-ready to serve. And the tailless wonder is a great help during car rides, too.

Zhar is the perfect four-legged assistant to leap out from the backseat to the front and get to objects from hard-to-reach places in the car.

Last week, the incredibly large Doberman managed to contort his body in order to retrieve a mineral water bottle that had strayed into the corner end of the floor of the passenger seat.

He can also pick up anything, from two-litre water bottles to delicate items such as combs, coins and business cards from the floor and bring them over to me.

However, the part that is most helpful about my Doberman-assistant is his patience when it comes to my wheelchair - which even puts some human helpers to shame.

Zhar will sit like a rock by my side when I do transfers, for example, getting from my bed to my wheelchair and in and out of my car.

It's as if he perfectly understands these critical moments of my life; and should I ever fall, I would be able to break my fall thanks to him, and escape injury.

No one could ask for a better friend in life, not with a completely caring canine companion, like Zhar, to help me along.