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Morgan Lyons

November 1, 1999

Service Animal of the Year

DART's Dakota is Top Dog

Mike Lingenfelter and DakotaMike Lingenfelter sees. He hears. He walks. But the DART contract communications engineer is constantly accompanied by a rare cardio-pulmonary ailment that could claim his life at any moment.

Fortunately, he also has another companion, 98 pounds of Golden Retriever named Dakota of Katy.

Dakota is one of a handful of service animals specially trained by Paws For Caring under guidelines established by the Delta Society, a Washington State-based nonprofit group, to aid individuals with so-called "invisible" disabilities. Dakota and four other special animals have been selected as winners of the society's annual Beyond Limits Awards for 1999-2000. The winners and their owners were honored at Delta's Annual Conference in Cincinnati October 30.

The Beyond Limits Awards recognize service animals that enrich the lives of the people they touch. Dakota's award, the Service Animal of the Year, recognizes animals that are specially trained to help people with disabilities to overcome barriers and achieve greater independence.

Roger Snoble, Mike Lingenfelter and DakotaAmong Dakota's special skills is the ability to detect a certain enzyme secreted by Mike's body when an attack is imminent. "He lets me know it's time for my medication, and he never misses," says Lingenfelter, who credits the service animal program with his successful return to the workplace.

"I never thought angels came with brown eyes and a furry tail," his owner adds, "but this one did."

Five years ago, Lingenfelter had given up on life. After two heart attacks and other major health problems, he couldn't work, he couldn't write his name, and he didn't care.

But then Dakota entered his life, performing therapy dog duties as part of his mental and physical rehabilitation. After a little more than a year, Dakota also started saving Lingenfelter's life. He developed the ability to know when Lingenfelter was about to experience a cardio-pulmonary attack. Dakota alerts him, reminding him take his medication in time to avert major problems, something that has happened three times in the past five years.

"Dakota is my best friend, the emotional support that keeps me getting better," says Lingenfelter.

At DART, where disabled customers are welcomed daily, employees have similarly embraced Lingenfelter and Dakota in the workplace.

"DART is all about helping people," says Roger Snoble, president and executive director for DART. "Mike is an important employee, and Dakota helps him be productive, so it all works out. Besides, Dakota's a big hit in the building with all the other employees."

To say the least: amazingly, Dakota has also alerted on two of Mike's co-workers recently, warning them of imminent heart problems.

Click here to download a 3 1/2 minute quicktime video news release about Mike and Dakota. (26.4 Megabyte download)

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