“Canines Can Care”is a non-profit organization led by Shirin Merchant who is an associate of world-renowned animal behaviorist and trainer John Rogerson and a member of The Northern Centre for Animal Behaviour, England and The Pet Behaviour Institute, England. She has studied canine training and behavior for the past six years in England. The unit is also led by Mr. Junaid Merchant, an experienced obedience and agility trainer and competitor.

We thought you might find it interesting to know that for the past few years our Mumbai based unit has worked to train dogs to aid individuals who are physically challenged. They help the handicapped to achieve their desire to be independent by performing tasks that are physically demanding.

The dogs are trained to carry out as many as fifty tasks, some of which are :

- Picking up dropped objects.

- Fetching items from a cupboard, shelf, refrigerator or a drawer.

- Dropping articles in a waste paper basket.

- Opening and closing doors.

- Speaking on command to alert of an intruder / or barking for help.

- Getting help in an emergency by alerting another human being.

- Loading and unloading washing machine.

- Switching on and off light switches.

- Fetching a telephone.

- Covering the owner with a blanket.

- Acting as a walking support.

- Carrying items from one person to another.

- Pulling a wheelchair.

and many more commands which can be individually suited to the physically challenged person.

In addition to the above, studies which have been conducted show that when a disabled individual is paired with a service animal, the physical aspect of the relationship is not the only part that benefits. Through the pairing, a strong emotional bond often forms between the human and canine. As a consequence of this bond, many areas of the owner’s well-being are enhanced, making that person grow in self-esteem, confidence and independence. India has a huge and ever-growing population of physically disabled people and not enough facilities to help them. Though a lot of Government and Non-Government Agencies are doing their best to alleviate some of their problems, it is but a drop in the ocean.

These specially trained dogs provide a vehicle for people to see past the disability and see disabled people as human beings with feelings. In a country such as ours where dogs are loved and appreciated by a select few, we aim to create an awareness of how useful the animal can be, not only to able-bodied people but also to the physically handicapped.

One successful story is that of Magic & Me.

I always refer to him as "My Magic'al Angel". He was given to me by Shirin almost 3 1/2 years back. Having always loved dogs since the time I remember, I jumped to the opportunity of having an Assistance Dog. There was a challenging road ahead. Training Magic to understand my commands seemed impossible. Ever so often, I wondered how we would get the boisterous hyper-active dog to obey anything. Little did I know that under that jumpy dog was the smartest brain!! Under Shirin's guidance & training Magic started responding. After all, she was the 'expert' & we finally saw what Magic was all about.

Magic was first taught basic commands such as sit, down, rollover and the most important 'fetch'. He mastered all these and obeyed them with great confidence. All of Magic's training was done with positive reinforcements using food and voice as reinforces and of course loads of love.

Being wheelchair bound, I was unable to perform simple tasks such as picking up a TV remote or a pen. Magic was taught to fetch simple household items like a toothbrush, a comb, a hair band etc. He soon realized how much I needed his assistance. He has learnt his commands so well that now if I drop something & he hears it fall, he himself gets up & fetches it for me!!!

Today Magic is the first Assistance Dog in India & has his name in the Limca book of records!!

My journey with Magic has made me realize that life's all about living and enjoying it to the fullest.