Best friends in life and in service to each other, a true partnership between man and dog
Tom Webb, 79, of Pratt, has been dealing with Parkinson's Disease for several years now. It's something that affects his life in multiple ways, none of them easy, none of them fun. He got an idea that having a service dog might help his situation two years ago, and when he found Melanie, a black lab puppy in the Presbyterian Church parking lot, a partnership was forged that has blessed both man and his best friend.
"There was a man there with a box of about a dozen puppies one day," Webb said. "I took a look and kind of had an idea of what I wanted - a black one, a female - and there she was. But I told the guy that I wanted to take the puppy home and check with my wife if this was what we wanted. He gave me permission to do that."
Webb said he took the 7-week-old puppy home and his wife, Dorothy, and he decided that maybe they didn't want to have potentially such a big dog in their lives.
"I took the dog (not my wife) back to the parking lot and that guy was gone," Webb said. "I have no idea who he was, where he came from, or where he went. We kept the dog. We just kind of decided it must be a God-thing, and she has been a real blessing."
On Sunday, Webb had his dog, named Melanie, in church with him for the Palm Sunday service at Pratt's Abundant Harvest Church of the Nazarene. He has been training her for service for two years now and she wears a pink service-designated vest.
"She likes people and does real well in crowds. She still hesitates sometimes to go into new rooms and she doesn't like surprises, but as long as she is able to touch me, she is fine," Webb said.
A close bond has formed between this man and his dog. Melanie helps Tom go up and down stairs, she is alert to "freezes" he experiences because of the Parkinson's and nudges or licks him to bring him out of the stupor. She loves to go for walks or play tennis-ball fetch, Webb said. She loves just about anything as long as he is by her side or within sight.
"A few months after we got her, I heard her crying and barking one day in a way she had never done before," Webb said. "There was a bad rain storm going on and I found her tangled in a bunch of ropes in the garage. It took some doing to get her out. Ever since that time she has been so very loyal and thankful. It's like she feels like I saved her life and she will not leave my side. She is such a very important part of my life."
Webb said he read several dog-training books, particularly two called "Teamwork" and "Teamwork II."
"Those books are invaluable for training a service dog," he said. "We have learned five or six very basic commands and are working on specific ways she can compensate for my disabilities as they get worse with Parkinson's."
He said he has entered her for registration with an official service dog organization, and according to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) he is allowed to take her out in public with him wherever he goes.
"We go to guy places together," he said. "I can take her in to the Lumberyard, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, those kind of places, and church. Everybody loves her at the two churches we go to."
The Webbs attend Pratt Free Methodist Church as well as Abundant Harvest of the Nazarene.
Tom Webb said that having a service dog like Melanie has made his life feel more comfortable.
"We will be together until the end," he said. "She's my security blanket and I guess I am hers. I can't image life without her."