The Ultimate Adventure Companion
Gem might be all-business, but she’s isn’t above a game of fetch. It’s in her blood; she is a black Labrador Retriever after all. The other things she does so well—opening and closing doors, helping with the laundry—not so much. So, you can’t give all the credit to genetics. At least some has to go to the trainer.
The same can be said for most any dog, trained or not. Someone is always behind the heel. But for some people, the stakes are higher—a disregarded command can be the difference between life and death. Service dogs like Gem may have four paws and a tail to wag, but they’re not exactly pets. They are highly-trained professional work animals.
Gem is Jeff Supergan’s service dog. But she isn’t his first. A yellow Lab named Yellowstone came before her and now works with Jeff’s wife, Amy. Gem is new to the family, but Jeff’s journey to owning her began 24 years ago when he fractured his C6-C7 vertebrae diving into a lake, limiting how he can use his arms and legs. The injury threatened his independence and required life-changing decisions.
Take choosing a wheelchair. When you don’t know the details, they can all look identical. But Jeff had to pick between an electric-powered wheelchair and a manual variant, each with distinct drawbacks and strengths.
“He didn’t want to be in an automatic wheelchair because once electric, you’re always electric,” says Amy. “He wouldn’t be able to use his arms and muscles” because an electric wheelchair isn’t designed to be actively powered by its driver.
For 12 years, the manually-powered wheelchair worked for Jeff. Its downsides—on steep terrain and over long distances—were balanced by Amy, who could help push Jeff. Together, they led an active lifestyle—hiking together and even going camping in Alaska. Jeff didn’t even consider purchasing a service animal.
“I never had a dog before,” he says. I didn’t know what they could do. I didn’t know they’d help. I thought it was going to be a hindrance.”
Amy thought otherwise. Jeff didn’t always enjoy going out in public; he thought people stared. She figured a dog would divert the attention and make him feel more comfortable. She was determined. So together with her daughter, she brought home a eight-week-old puppy on his birthday, and the dog peed all over. Her name was Yellowstone, and she was a yellow Lab.