The last Thursday in July was a special day for Carlene Rice of Brewer and her friends at Citizens of Maine at the Intown Plaza in Bangor.
That was the day Carlene, her mother, Sissy Rice, and her sister and direct support personnel, Danielle Littlefield, came to Citizens of Maine to meet and visit with the folks who are working hard to help Carlene pay for training her new service dog, Gibbs.
Carlene Rice, who is 24, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, or CMT, which, according to the Mayo Clinic website, is also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy and is a group of hereditary disorders that affects the nerves in the arms and legs.
The disease predominantly causes muscle weakness and decreased muscle bulk with typically limited decreased sensation.
Citizens of Maine is an agency providing support services to adults with developmental disabilities, and its attendees have been busy this summer making something special to contribute to the cost of training Rice’s new service companion: dog biscuits.
Citizens of Maine President Julie Helwig explained that Rice previously was receiving support from her service dog, Champ, who became ill and died unexpectedly, leaving Rice not only to face the loss of her companion, but also having to rely on family to help her in ways that Champ used to. Until Gibbs came along.
In addition to his regular service dog training, Gibbs is trained to provide care specific to Rice’s needs. That training is extremely expensive, Helwig said, and is not covered by MaineCare.
Knowing that, Rice’s friends at Citizens of Maine came up with a creative way to help.
Helwig said they researched recipes for dog treats, tried out a few in the kitchen and decided on one that was most liked by dogs and had a good shelf life.
They named the treats “Champ’s Biscuits” in honor and memory of Rice’s former service dog.
Having enjoyed the delicious aroma of the baking treats when I visited, they must taste delicious, too, because my dog gobbled them right up.
Rice’s friends have been busy making, packaging, labeling and promoting the dog biscuits, which can be purchased for a donation of $3, or more if you wish, at Citizens of Maine, Harlow Street Laundromat and Dry Cleaners at Intown Plaza, and R&K Variety in Hampden.
Rice, Gibbs, her family and new friends had a lovely visit, getting to know each other and learning from Rice and her family what having a service dog means to her.
Rice’s friends learned, for example, that Gibbs is laser-trained so if Rice drops something she can point to it with a laser and he will pick it up; that if she falls in the bathroom, Gibbs can brace himself and help her get back up; that he eats no “people food” so he will remain perfectly still when he accompanies Rice to a restaurant; that when Gibbs is not “in service,” meaning he is without his service dog vest, he loves to watch television and chase Rice’s cats; and, most impressively, that the golden retriever models featured in the L.L. Bean catalog are his grandfather and mother.
It costs approximately $1,000 to purchase a service dog and approximately $4,000 for what is called owner-based training, which is why Rice’s friends at Citizens of Maine are eager to help in any way they can.
To date, they’ve raised nearly $600 through the sale of Champ’s Biscuits, and hope to raise even more.
“Although our sales totals pale in comparison to the cost of the training, the efforts these folks have made to help out a friend have no price tag,” Helwig said.