By Carlos Javier
In the summer of 2017, a labradoodle puppy name Felipe arrived at the Highland Canine training center. Felipe came from the territory of Puerto Rico and, immediately upon arriving at Highland Canine, he was loved by everyone.
Felipe already had a definite plan for his life; he would become a service dog. Not only would Felipe become just any service dog, he would become a mobility assistance dog for a young woman with high ambitions and goals set for her life.
In time, Felipe would become something even rarer, and even more remarkable – a scientific service dog.
‘Pipe’, as Felipe is affectionately nicknamed, is the service dog of Juliana Bonilla Lugo, a fourth-year student in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus (UPR-RRP). Juliana suffers from Friedreich’s Ataxia. This is a rare genetic disease which causes a progressive loss of many of the functions necessary for personal autonomy.
Despite this, Juliana can usually be found laughing and in a positive frame of mind. Friedreich’s Ataxia does not represent a limitation for her. It is clear to everyone who meets her that when she sets her mind to something, nothing will stop her.
Since Juliana was a young child, she had always wanted to have a Labradoodle of her own. She was determined to find a furry friend and, as she got a little older, began to search for her life partner.
In a short amount of time, Juliana found Pipe and informed her parents that she had already found a dog. After Juliana’s diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia, it was her mother who originally told her about the possibility of being a candidate to have a Service Dog, and it would be good to train the dog as a Mobility Assistance Dog. They took to the task of finding the perfect company and went through the DASHA program, who have worked with Highland Canine in the past.
Pipe’s service dog training journey
Pipe went through intensive training at Highland Canine. For 15 months, he was working and learning with Highland Canine’s service dog training team.
At first, Pipe went through a lot of socialization to get him used to the big, wide world out there. Once his socialization stage was complete, Pipe learned how to perform many different tasks to perform his duties as a mobility service dog, including:
- how to turn the light switch on and off
- how to open and close doors
- how to open and close the refrigerator and cabinets
- how to retrieve dropped items
- how to heel beside a walker and stand still for transitions
But there was something else he needed training for. Pipe needed to be trained to be a scientist.
Introducing Pipe – the scientific service dog!
As a science student, Juliana attends chemistry laboratories at the Natural Sciences Faculty – and Pipe needs to attend the lab class too.
Pipe was trained to get used to using safety boots, tight glasses and a lab coat embroidered with “Dr. Bonilla”. Pipe accompanies his handler Juliana and assists in all her daily tasks.
According to Juliana, the adaptation process was easy. This inspiring young woman cares for her dog on a daily basis and reinforces his training with treats, using the lessons he had learned at Highland Canine’s training center.
“Friedriech’s Ataxia affects the neurons, but thank God, not the intelligence,” said Juliana.
During Pipe’s delivery, our Service Dog trainers Carlos and Amber went with Juliana and Pipe to meet Dr. Ingrid Montes Gonzalez, Juliana’s teacher.
Dr. Montes indicated that the first time she saw Pipe, she fell in love with him. At first, she was worried because of the security aspect in the laboratories, which is why Pipe uses booties and safety glasses, along with his robe. They also keep him away from reactive substances in a mat that they put on the floor.
Juliana attributes her motivation to her parents, mentors, teachers, colleagues, and especially to Pipe, who have helped her through her life to overcome each step and grow as a person.
Even after the delivery of Pipe, Juliana and her mother, Doriane, continue to share the achievements and adventures that Pipe and Juliana have together.
And just think, next time you see a furry black and white Labradoodle wearing a robe – it could be Dr. Bonilla, Pipe the Scientific Service Dog!