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Jasper family receives service dog


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At the sight of her mother, 10-year-old Bella is known to bolt. She’ll run straight toward her, even if that means charging into oncoming traffic.

She’ll also bolt if she sees her dad or a horse, or anything else she finds attractive.

It’s an issue that Bella’s parents, Connie and Hjalmar Tiesenhausen, have struggled with for years, especially as she’s grown older, stronger and faster.

Bella’s instinct to run—often without fear of the dangers around her—is the reason the Tiesenhausens applied for a service dog nearly three years ago, and last week their dreams finally came true.

At the beginning of the month, a yellow labrador retriever joined the Tiesenhausen family after it spent nearly two years training with the Dogs With Wings Assistance Dog Society in Edmonton. His name is Uri.

Uri will continue his training with Bella’s parents for the next six months before he begins his job,  accompanying Bella everywhere she goes, whether it’s school, the pool, the grocery store or the horse stables.

On her second birthday, Bella was diagnosed with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy—a neurological impairment caused by insufficient oxygen to the brain.

For Bella, this occurred during her last weeks in the womb, when her umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around her neck. The result is cerebral palsy, a non-progressive impairment of motor functions that causes physical disability as a child develops.

Bella’s impairment has caused developmental delays, deficient gross and fine motor skills, neural-developmental delay and cognitive impairment.

To put it into perspective, until recently, Bella had never spoken a word in her life and she was largely living in a bubble, unaware of what was going on around her.

All of that changed in 2010 when her parents took a leap of faith and travelled to a clinic in Germany where Bella’s stem cells were harvested from her hip and reintroduced into her body through an IV.

She has had two more stem cell treatments since then and has since started interacting with the world around her, pointing at objects, vocalizing and even using sign language to communicate.

But, even with her improvements, Bella continues to bolt, causing her parents a significant amount of stress.

With Uri lying at her feet, Oct. 5, Connie said she cried when she got the news that Bella had been approved for a dog.

It was a long time coming—the Tiesenhausens submitted their application in February 2012 and spent the last two and a half years watching their name slowly move up the list as more dogs completed their training and were made available to families.

Uri’s training, which will continue for the rest of his working life, has already been extensive, beginning when he was just eight weeks old.

As a service dog, his role is to keep Bella calm and safe, while also providing her with some independence. That’s achieved by tethering Bella to Uri’s collar with a waist belt.

Uri has been trained to stop Bella from bolting—as soon as he feels a tug on the tether, he will stop, sit or lie down, depending on how hard Bella pulls.

“I don’t think we can even begin to imagine what this dog will do for our family,” said Connie. “It will be beneficial for Bella, but more so it will be beneficial to the boys and our family because we will be able to do things we couldn’t do before.”

Currently, the family, which includes Bella’s brothers, Thomas and Angelo, is often forced to split up, with Connie taking the boys and Hjalmar taking Bella or vice versa. Connie said she hopes Uri will allow them to go out as one unit so they can enjoy experiences together as a family.

To bring Uri home, the Tiesenhausens paid Dogs With Wings just $1, despite the fact that it costs about $30,000 to train a service dog. That was made possible by large corporate sponsorships, as well as extensive fundraising efforts by the registered charity.

As part of their contract, the Tiesenhausens agreed to help Dogs With Wings with its future fundraising efforts. So far, the family has collected more than $600 in recyclables and compiled a number of auction items for the annual Dogs With Wings Gala Dinner being held in Edmonton Oct. 17.

Connie is still collecting bottles and auction items and invites any business owners or communities members to contact her if they have something to donate.

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Nicole Veerman

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