Lemon explains need for new service dog, requests help from Pratt community

Billie Blair
Pratt Tribune
Tara Lemon of Pratt loves her service dog, Patches, and hopes to retire him after 14-years of loyal service. She needs help to buy a new service dog, however.

Tara Lemon's 14-year-old service dog, Patches, has been with her since the day he was born. He is a trained service dog, something she feels she cannot live without after suffering for many years with severe anxiety, back problems, PTSD and panic disorder. Her little dog has accompanied her around the home and around town all these years with his harness and little yellow jacket that says “service dog,” but now it is time to retire Patches and find a new service dog. And Lemon needs some community help for that task.

“There are days when Patches really doesn’t want to work anymore," Lemon said. "He would rather lie on the couch.”

At 18-years-of-age, Lemon was hit by a drunk driver, impacting her mobility. Now at 43, she experiences ongoing issues which are helped by the presence of a service dog in her life. Once while she was in a local store, she experienced a strong sense of anxiety. She stepped outside with Patches and sat on the ground.

"After 10 minutes of pressure therapy, I was able to get up and move around,” she said. Pressure therapy is simply having Patches sit in her lap with the pressure of his weight providing a sense of calm.

“It’s hard to help people understand what happens with pressure therapy. It’s similar to the comfort of a weighted blanket,” she said.

Lemon said that not every disability is visible. Her disabilities include severe anxiety, back problems, PTSD, and panic disorder.

“I am also a breast cancer patient and survivor,” she said.

Lemon said her oncologist noticed a big improvement in her functioning once she had Patches working with her. On her 39th birthday, Lemon added seizures to her list of difficulties.

A service dog is able to recognize that something is about to happen and can warn its owner. Lemon said it was importance for people to recognized the role of a service dog and to not approach a service dog on the job.

“People see a small dog like Patches and think this can’t be a service dog,” she said. “Even though dogs like Patches take their jobs very seriously, a service dog can get distracted by another person’s attention and miss a cue or a task. Please always ask first.”

Knowing that Patches was reaching his 14th birthday on June 27 of this year, Lemon had the foresight to apply for a new service dog through CARES, Inc. in September of 2019. CARES stands for Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services and is located in Concordia, Kansas.

The website for CARES, Inc., (http://www.caresks.com/) describes their work in providing 1,400 “canine assistants to people across the United States… and eight countries.” The company is unique in that it trains dogs depending on the needs of each individual which often include multiple disabilities. The initial, general training is done by foster families. Many of these are single women with children in order to offer both jobs to low-income families and to test the personalities and patience of the dogs around little ones.

Other trainers are found in Ellsworth and Hutchinson Correctional Institutions. Inmates must have a year of no disciplinary issues. They apply as foster puppy raiser, are interviewed, and are individually selected. Inmates have been involved in raising and placing over 800 dogs and puppies through CARES.

It is important to recognize the difference between a service dog, like Patches, and the new canine Lemon is seeking, and an Emotional Service Animal (ESA). According to the National Service Animal Registry website (www.nsarco.com/blog/esa-vs-service-dogs.html ), both types of service animals “can provide emotional support for those who need it.” A service dog, though, “is specially trained to perform a function or job for an owner that has a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability.”

Lemon, who was born in Pratt and has lived there through her sophomore year of high school, said she has always considered Pratt her home. She graduated in Dodge City and moved back to Pratt several years ago.

“I’m invited to high school reunions by friends as if I graduated from here,” she said.

Lemon is not working outside the home at this time. With the help of a lawyer over a two year process, she was able to receive disability funds. Her mobility and seizures are getting worse. She said knows she’s in need of a larger, professionally trained dog in order to be able to live as normal a life as possible.

"Having a dog is key to doing that,” she said.

Lemon has set up a GoFundMe page (https://gofund.me/1bc86eb4) to help her raise the funds she needs to acquire a dog when one is ready for her.

“I don’t know anything about the dog until I receive it – not the breed or the size,” she said.

She has been on the CARES 24-month waitlist for 22 months, so she is getting closer to the time a dog will come available for her. Like many people, Lemon said it is extremely hard for her to ask for financial help with the needed funds. She is seeking $5,000 to help defray the costs of a new service dog.

"If I can somehow I raise more than enough for mine, I would pay it forward by helping someone else get a dog,” she said.

And what is in the future for Patches? Lemon said plans to keep him as her pet as a reward for so many years of good and faithful service.

"He has more than earned his retirement," she said.