The spinal cord injury Larry Cherry suffered in high school began impacting his life in a major way in his mid-50s. He started having trouble with balance, a loss of motion in his legs, and neuropathy.
“Over the years, the tumors inside my spinal cord grew and finally made me not be able to walk,” he said.
Suddenly, the simplest tasks became insurmountable — until he met Carrie.
“She loves to play ball, she loves people, she loves kids especially,” he said. “She’s my friend. She goes where I go.”
Named after the country singer Carrie Underwood, Carrie is a service dog who was matched with Cherry by the St. Louis-based nonprofit Duo Dogs.
“She can untie my shoes, she can pull off my socks, she helps me pull down my pants,” he said. “She picks up anything that I drop on the floor, which I do regularly: my keys, my canes, my cellphone, my remote control. She’s just a wonderful assistant to go with me everywhere.”
Carrie even helps with the laundry.
“They can put the clothes in for the client, they can take the clothes out, they can put them in the dryer,” said Peggy Musen, executive director of Duo Dogs. “If we learn how to train them to fold, we are going to be the wealthiest organization around.”
Duo Dogs has placed trained service dogs with clients in 38 states, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. Their dogs are taught a wide range of skills that make them the perfect assistant for people who have trouble getting around or who have hearing disabilities.
They also train so-called "touch-dogs" that provide emotional support in hospitals, classrooms and even courtrooms. The dogs are trained to sit by the witness stand in court, sometimes for hours, to provide a comforting presence to child abuse victims as they explain their story to a judge or jury.
“These child life specialists, who deal with trauma of children, say they don’t know how they did their job without a dog to assist them,” said Musen.
Sarah Fenske spoke with Musen and Cherry Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. Hear their entire conversation, including how the organization manages to provide the service dogs to clients free of charge and how the coronavirus has impacted their operations:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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