Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Teacher, dog demonstrate it's what's inside that counts

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For a second-stringer, Miss Nan acquitted herself quite well.

(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        The 2-year-old golden retriever opened cupboard doors, flipped on light switches and even solved math problems with no trouble in front of about 50 students at Washington Park School in Over-the-Rhine.

        “It's pretty cool that a dog can do that,” said Heckmet Haidar, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the school. “And it's nice to know that they can help people.”

        Monday's program was conducted by Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistance, an Atlanta-based company that trains dogs to assist the disabled.

        The reason for the demonstration was to teach students how to look beyond guide dogs and wheelchairs and see the person beneath, said Ms. Arnold, herself a victim of multiple sclerosis.

        “I'm one of the lucky ones, because mine went into remission,” said Ms. Arnold, 36, who now can walk but has used a wheelchair for years at a time since contracting the disease 20 years ago. “But still, the initial reaction I got from my friends when I was in a wheelchair was that I was a two-headed monster, even though I was the same person inside. And that's what I try to convey to the kids.”

        Miss Nan was filling in for Nicholas, another golden retriever who normally puts on displays for the program, called Canine Assistants Resources Educating Students.

        The 9-year-old dog was incapacitated after eating almost 10 pounds of cat food the night before.

        But the students didn't notice a difference, with almost every hand going up when Ms. Arnold asked for a volunteer.

        After being picked, 11-year-old fifth-grader Nichole Kincaid answered a few questions about her favorite food and subject. She then was told she could not use her arms or legs, and was asked the same questions.

        “I'm not different on the inside,” she said after giving the same answers.

        “Now I know that people like that are just like me, and that they can get help,” Nichole said.


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