Meet Lisa and Her Service Dog Timberly

Timberley“I have an invisible disability and feel guilty asking people for help because I look normal,” says Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) graduate Lisa,* of Chugiak, Alaska, who has Chiari malformation and rheumatoid arthritis. “But working with a happy, silly dog is so much fun. It takes us a while to get things done, but we’re being goofy. Laughing at her makes my 24/7 pain better.”

Timberly performs a variety of tasks to help Lisa ration how often she uses her arms and bends and turns her neck, activities that cause Lisa great pain and could mean that she spends several days in bed or has difficulty walking. Although the amount of work Timberly does each day varies depending on how Lisa feels, some of Timberly’s daily activities include

  • Helping with laundry, such as tugging sheets and blankets off the bed and pulling clothing out of the dryer into a laundry basket
  • Picking up dropped items such as cell phones and credit cards
  • Opening doors including the refrigerator and freezer doors
  • Retrieving items that roll to the back of the van, a pillow, bath or kitchen towels, and pot lids out of low drawers and cabinets
  • Pulling off socks, shoes, pants and shirt sleeves when Lisa is tired
  • Assisting Lisa when going to the doctor or attending her children’s basketball games
  • Going on long walks to help Lisa relieve her pain

Lisa says she decided to get a service dog because she was tired of asking her children and husband to help her so much. She applied for the CCI program, and she said the CCI team helped her a lot, especially with working with Timberly in public.

“I could have done it on my own, but I wouldn’t have understood how much more my dog is capable of or what to do when things don’t go as expected,” she says.

The most challenging part of getting a service dog has been in the reactions of people in public. Lisa says people sometimes get in the way of Timberly helping her.

“After my dog has mastered a new task at home, it takes a few public outings for her to master doing it in public, and she’s often interrupted by kind people who reach down to do something that they think is too hard for her,” she says. “One time she was tugging my snow gear tote bag around a hallway corner, and it got stuck. Before my dog could reposition herself to start tugging again, a lady picked up the tote. She didn’t know it was a training session and only meant to help.”

All in all, Lisa is glad she participated in the CCI program. Not only did she inherit a new family to cheer her on, she also is experiencing less pain and moving around much more.

“I go out more because I’m better, thanks to my dog’s help.”

*Last name withheld.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at