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Fundraiser planned for service dog at The Grove at St. Vincent College

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Holly Clark of Latrobe stands for a portrait with her dog Teddy on Tuesday, September 30, 2013.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Holly Clark of Latrobe stands for a portrait with her dog Teddy on Tuesday, September 30, 2013.

When Holly Clark of Youngstown got her now-six-year-old Pomeranian, Teddy, as a puppy, he was attentive enough to notice her sleeping disorder even without training.

Teddy can notice when Clark stops breathing while she sleeps and demonstrated his skill when he was a few months old and her husband watched him climb on her and nudge her chest.

“My husband said, ‘No, that can't be right,' ” Clark said.

For years, Teddy has served as an alert and mobility service dog after training more than 120 hours during six months, but needs help of his own.

The dog has a collapsed trachea, which affects his breathing and eventually could cause him to choke to death without a surgical implant to keep his airway open. “It would be near-impossible to find another dog like him,” Clark said of the pair's special relationship. “I can't replace him.”

Clark has held a few yard sales to help pay for the surgery, which could cost up to $3,800, but a local business owner has come to her aid in hopes of covering the total cost and rewarding Teddy's years of service to Clark.

After a chance meeting between Clark and Jeanean Smith, owner of Jioio's Restaurant on Route 981 in Unity, Smith offered to hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to help with Teddy's veterinary bills.

“Just look at him,” Smith said, referring to the big eyes and wide smile of the fluffy dog.

Smith, who has three dogs, two birds and miniature horses, has donated to animal rescue organizations, but this will be the first fundraiser she has organized.

The spaghetti dinner benefit, planned for Oct. 20, will include food donated from DeLallo Foods as well as other items and raffle baskets donated by other local businesses.

Clark said Teddy, in otherwise perfect health, could live another 10 years if he gets the surgery, but without it, she isn't sure when the next breathing attack will occur.

“You can hear him taking in air, but it's not going in,” she said. “His eyes will get big, his lips will get blue, his tongue will turn blue; it's very debilitating.”

Clark said she tries her best to help him recover from an attack, including keeping him calm and massaging his throat.

“There's nothing much you can do but ride it out,” she said.

Clark said Teddy is one of only a few Pomeranian service dogs and only a small number that have the acute sense to alert of sleep disorders.

She is unable to use a machine to regulate her breathing at night, so Clark is nudged by Teddy enough to continue breathing properly, but gently enough to remain sleeping.

Clark visited a training school in Tennessee where handlers have worked with pugs to do similar work, but none have the inherent skill like Teddy does.

“None of them have the same intensity he has,” she said.

The dog owner hopes to educate the public about the roles of service dogs, including combatting the prevailing notion that only German shepherds or Labrador retrievers can be trained.

With federal regulations, service dogs like Teddy are allowed anywhere the public is allowed to go and they are working dogs, different from pets.

“They don't behave like a pet, they have one job in mind,” she said.

She said while Teddy is a mild-mannered service dog that has passed training tests dealing with people in streets, restaurants and other public environments, he acts like a Pomeranian when “off-duty.”

“Take off his harness and let him outside, and he'll chase a chipmunk,” Clark said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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