Service dog saves handler's life, now she's spreading awareness - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Service dog saves handler's life, now she's spreading awareness

(Source: KPLC) (Source: KPLC)

Adele Doucet was a thriving young woman, a straight a student and an avid dancer with a bright future.

But when a tragic event caused her to develop an anxiety disorder, she found herself off the dance floor and isolated within her own body, with a diminishing will to live.

For years Doucet was in and out of hospitals, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

It wasn't until two years ago that a four-legged boy changed her life again.

"It's nice to be not so anxiety ridden when I have him."

Doucet found a service dog training center in Shreveport, where she says God matched her with Roman, a dog trained to sense PTSD.

"Half the time I don't even know I'm having anxiety. He knows before I do."

Doucet says Roman uses her smells on her body and on her breath to let her know when something isn't right.

"He'll misbehave, which is called acceptable defiance, to get you to realize something is wrong, and they do it to get you out of where you are."

But one night, her mom noticed Roman acting up while Doucet was asleep.

"He started alerting to something we didn't know,” Doucet said. “We knew it wasn't anxiety because it was a different alert, and I had gotten into a wreck and we went to the neurologist and we found out he was alerting to focal seizures."

Roman changed Doucet’s life. She no longer sits in the car while her mom shops for groceries or isolates herself from the people she cares about.
"I'm so much more happy and healthy than I would be."

But having a service animal brings some people to raise questions regarding their value.

Attorney Rock Palermo explained what the American Disabilities Act is used for.

"The rights you have as a person who has a disability is to have a dog to help you with your disability that is trained to do work or a task,” Palermo said. "A service dog is an extension of you, for example like a wheelchair, a wheelchair helps you live your life."

Doucet has been turned away from multiple restaurants due to needing Roman by her side.

"(You) cannot be denied service just like you came in with a wheelchair,” Palermo said. “You cannot be denied service just because you have a service animal."

But since there are no clear-cut laws to classify a service dog, many times, those with disabilities are turned away.

"It’s frustrating because you try to educate people when they don't know and you try to bring up the laws and they say you still can't come in,” Doucet said. “So, you just have to walk away and find another place to eat."

As a business owner, there are only two questions you can ask someone with an animal who enters your establishment.

You can ask, "Is it a service dog" and "What is the dog trained to do?"

In addition, a service animal is expected to act as if it's a piece of medical equipment.

"If the dog were to growl, you could be asked to leave,” Palermo said. “Because that wouldn't be conduct that would be appropriate for you."

For Doucet, her mission in life is to raise awareness for those who need service animals. If you encounter someone with a service animal, Doucet says there are some things you must refrain from.

"They shouldn't do drive-by-petting, they graze his back and they shouldn't happen, they shouldn't make kissy noises, they shouldn't call his name and don't freak out when you see us. Just because there's a dog, don't say it's gross or it's unsanitary - he gets a bath weekly."

For Roman, being Doucet’s service animal is his main priority.

"When they're at home they can be pets but when they're working they're medical equipment."

Because service animals take alerts from the smell of their handler, by petting them or calling their name, they can become distracted and miss an alert from their handler.

Service animals are making positive impacts on their handlers, but Doucet says it's time people get informed on what these four-legged friends can really do.

Doucet also says that just because you pay money to register your animal as a service animal online, doesn't mean it's trained to be one.

For more information on rights handlers have, take a look at the ADA.

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