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Oro Valley woman gains independence with help of a service dog

Posted at 8:08 PM, Mar 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-14 00:49:25-04
They say a dogs are a man's best friend, but for Oro Valley woman Debra Van Zee a certain Labrador Retriever is much more. Cassie is her companion, her shadow.
"I have MS and I drop everything, so she picks things up and gives them back to me," Van Zee said. "She also opens and closes doors for me."
Van Zee was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 90's. Last summer she received a service dog free of charge thanks to Canine Companions for Independence. Van Zee spent two weeks at a training camp in Oceanside, California.
"When I first came home with her it was of course a learning experience, to have a service dog, but it just gets better and better," Van Zee said. "Every day we have to practice a little bit."
Cassie was professionally trained for two years and knows about 40 commands, including opening and closing doors. 
"These dogs are trained to turn off and on light switches," Van Zee said. "I don't need that right now but it could come to that time, so she can do more things for me."
Van Zee lives with her husband, but Cassie givers her a sense of independence. March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, but Van Zee wants to encourage others to get a service dog. She hadn't thought to until a neighbor made the suggestion. 
"When you're disabled people tend to a little bit shy away from you because they don't know what to say," Van Zee said. "So she really draws attention and it's fun. It's fun."
Here's more on how you can learn about Canine Companions for Independence