|Canine companion provides valuable medical assistance
|Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 9:57 pm
By CHRIS MENEES
Whenever Ruth Cum-mings steps out, Dee is at her service.
Dee is a working dog — a unique Black Russian Terrier which is Mrs. Cummings’ medical assistance dog.
He is the Fulton woman’s canine companion as the result of an accident she had in 1992 in downtown Union City.
“I was in an accident where I was thrown into the street, forward, and a car ran over my hand and arm all the way up to my face, broke all my teeth, my glasses,” she said.
As a result, Mrs. Cummings developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which affects her ability to judge distance and makes her susceptible to falls.
Because she has difficulty gauging distance, particularly going up and down stairs, Dee is there to gauge her steps and Mrs. Cummings is able to throw her arm over the large animal in the event she begins to fall.
“If I go to fall, he’s at my fingertips,” she said.
When he’s working, Dee wears a bright red vest which identifies him as a service animal and allows him to accompany Mrs. Cummings anywhere at all times.
Mrs. Cummings, a hypnotherapist by trade, became acquainted with the unique Black Russian Terrier breed many years ago when she had an office in Nashville and a man in the same complex owned one of the dogs.
“I called my husband and I said, ‘You’ve got to see this dog.’ Those were famous last words. Three dogs later, here we are,” she said. “I told him, ‘I’ve got to have one, I’ve got to have one.”
Mrs. Cummings ex-plained Black Russian Terriers are somewhat difficult to acquire, but she has been able to do so because of connections she has established with breeders.
“They’re kind of a black market dog,” she said.
The Black Russian Terrier was developed in Russia by the state for use as a military and working dog. Mrs. Cummings said after World War II, Stalin was jealous of the Germans’ war dog, the German Shepherd, and he commanded the military dog school — the Red Star Kennel — to produce a dog that would be “a manstopper.”
Five main breeds took part in the making of the terrier — Rottweiler, Giant Schnauzer, Airdale Terrier, Caucasian Ovtcharka and the Newfoundland. The breed was made by complete reproductive crossings.
The breed was solely state owned until 1957, when Red Star Kennel sold 11 puppies to civilian kennel clubs in Leningrad and the club later sold puppies to the Moscow Kennel Club and Yaroslavl Kennel Club. These cities became the centers of developing the Black Russian Terrier breed, according to Mrs. Cummings.
She explained it was very prestigious to obtain a dog from the Red Star Kennel and the dogs were so cherished the Russians called them “the black pearl of Russia.”
Four-year-old Dee — short for Russian Bear’s Debonair Dynamite — is Mrs. Cummings’ second male Black Russian Terrier service animal. Her first was Yuri, who was with her for three years before he died in 2007.
She has had Dee since he was about 21⁄2 months old and when he weighed only 20 to 25 pounds. Now, the dog weighs roughly 120 pounds and could easily look his owner in the eye by placing his huge black paws on her shoulders.
He underwent special training to become Mrs. Cummings’ service animal and, although massive in size, is so sensitive to the needs of others that he frequently makes nursing home visits to bring joy to the patients.
“Trainers don’t really train the dogs, they train the people,” she said, adding that Dee passed his service animal test on the first try.
Mrs. Cummings and her husband, Marv, have fallen so much in love with the intelligent and unique breed of dog that Dee has a “sister” — a 5-year-old Black Russian Terrier named Laska, which the couple acquired after they got Yuri.
“They’re kind of like potato chips — you can’t quit,” Mrs. Cummings said.
Laska — whose name means “love and kisses” in Russian — has also been trained as a service animal. However, because she is shorter than Dee, she doesn’t work quite as well as a service animal for Mrs. Cummings. Still, she provides companionship and happiness for both Dee and her owners.
The dogs are very protective and very intelligent, according to Mr. and Mrs. Cummings, who have countless stories they share about the three Black Russian Terriers they have been fortunate enough to own.
For example, Marv Cummings once commanded Yuri to do “a sit-stay” in the yard while he went back inside the house. He went inside and forgot about the dog.
“I went out there 45 minutes later and he was still sitting in the same place, hadn’t moved,” he said. “They’re very intelligent.”
Dee is extremely protective of Mrs. Cummings and will step between her and anyone who approaches her, particularly if she is seated and in a more vulnerable position.
Mrs. Cummings said the dogs make such good service dogs because they bond so closely with their owners, but they also get along well with children and other animals. The couple’s Black Russian Terriers enjoy playing with a dog of their own, a miniature Jack Russell Terrier aptly named Little Man.
“That’s Dee’s dog,” Marv Cummings said.
Both Dee and Laska, who weighs about 110 pounds, live inside the Cummings’ home in a quiet residential neighborhood in Fulton. Keeping them indoors helps with the bonding between them and their owners.
“They’re very attached. One of the things they actually call them is the Velcro dog,” Mrs. Cummings said.
Because the dogs crossgender bond, the male Dee is attached to Mrs. Cummings and the female Laska is more attached to her husband. Both of Mrs. Cummings’ service dogs have been male.
Despite their huge size and somewhat intimidating appearance, both Dee and Laska are extremely well behaved animals, something which doesn’t go unnoticed by others.
“Everywhere I take them, people say, ‘Can you do anything with my husband or teenager?’ I say, ‘No, no, no. I can help you with your dog, but I don’t help you with your husband or teenagers,’” Mrs. Cummings said.
The dogs come from championship lines and have become champions in their own right with numerous wins in their classes at dog shows. Each dog’s achievements are logged in thick binders full of photos and ribbons which their owners share like proud parents.
“They are wonderful,” Mrs. Cummings said. “I can’t imagine life without a Black Russian Terrier. As my friend in Missouri who has two of them says — and he’s partial to his and they’re service animals for him also — everything else is just a dog. It is a special dog.”
At your service
Mrs. Cummings has benefited from the company of her service animal on several occasions when the dog has prevented her from falling. She is afraid that other people who have medical problems or disabilities may be missing out on the opportunity to have a service animal.
“A lot of people only think of a medical assistance animal as being a seeing eye dog, but there are a lot of people who have hip replacement or have difficulties and we have so many seniors in our area,” she said. “There are a lot of people who could benefit from a dog who don’t realize there’s assistance for them.”
Although the Black Russian Terrier has worked well for Mrs. Cummings, she realizes the rare and expensive breed is not for everyone. She can offer advice and assistance to anyone who may be interested in obtaining service animals for themselves or loved ones. For more information, contact her at (615) 509-5025.
She said any breed of dog can be trained as a medical assistance animal, adding that dogs nowadays are even trained to alert for low insulin levels, to detect seizures, to aid children with autism or to assist soldiers returning from war.
“Any dog of any breed, any size, can be a service animal,” she said. “If you have post-traumatic stress or anxiety and that dog calms you, a Chihuahua can be a medical assistance animal.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 3.26.12