MARATHON COUNTY (WAOW) -
Dogs have long been man's best friend. But a growing number of dogs are learning more than how to fetch and roll over. They are becoming life savers.
Eleven-year-old Maya is a certified service dog.
"Maya came into my life because I have a rare bone disease that has essentially destroyed all my joints," said Debi Delie of Marshfield.
Delie spent 26 years in a wheelchair. When she got Maya almost 10 years ago, her life changed.
"Maya has given me freedom to try things that I would have never tried before," said Delie.
Once her service vest is on, Maya is in full work mode.
"Maya is trained to pick up anything that I drop. She is is trained to get the telephone if I fall and if I need help," said Delie. "She is trained to set off a lifeline button if I were to be unconscious and fall. And she's trained to brace if I fall."
Delie says after more than 40 surgeries, she regained the ability to walk two years ago.
But Maya still stays by her side.
"I always call her 'Maya Monster' because when her vest is on, she's good as gold. And when her vest if off, she's all lab," said Delie.
These days, Maya gets to be all lab a little more often. But she still knows when, and how, to help Delie.
"I always felt like I don't want to be dependent on people to open doors for me and to pick up things I drop. I wanted to get some independence back. Maya has given me that," said Delie.
Handlers of service dogs say it's important to remember when these dogs are wearing their vests, they are working. They ask that you don't pet the dogs unless given permission.
There's another dog offering protection to all of Marathon County.
"My partner is Leo," said Marathon County Deputy Sheriff Troy Deiler.
Leo is one of the newest police K9s in Marathon County. He's trained to catch the bad guys and help save the good guys.
"He's trained obviously in finding drugs, narcotics," said Deiler. "He's also trained to apprehend and to protect me."
Leo can also track lost or missing individuals.
"It's just unreal the things they can do and the impact they have, especially with their noses. It's amazing how much a nose can do for a community," said Deiler.
Across the community, dozens of dogs are helping to make people feel better.
"We were invited here by the first grade teachers," said Marlin Block of Rothschild.
Block is the Director of Therapy Dog International Chapter 184. He and his dog Chip volunteer their time at area hospitals and schools.
The pair visits Lincoln Elementary School in Wausau every week to help students practice their reading skills.
"The dog will make them relaxed and so it makes them tell the story and really get into the story rather than just reading words," said June Wilhelm, a first grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School.
"He listens to me really well and I like to read with him," said first grader Caitlin Krantz.
Dogs like Chip go through special training to get certified.
"What we look for is we want a dog that is friendly, very social with people and other dogs. They need to be solid in their basic skills. You need them to be predictable in any given situation," said Cindy Steinke of Kronenwetter.
Steinke is the owner of K-9 Elementary, a dog training and behavior modification school. Steinke also tests dogs for their therapy certification.
One student in her class is Linda Haney of Wausau and her dog Chip. They are preparing for therapy dog certification.
"I'm a nurse and so I've seen people respond to animals when they don't respond to people," said Haney.
"It's pretty powerful. I would definitely say they're life enhancing dogs," said Steinke.
From therapy dogs, to service dogs, these amazing animals are working in our community to make it a little safer and a little brighter.