Published: Mar 12, 2013 04:40 PM
Modified: Mar 12, 2013 04:48 PM
APEX - Matthew Prusik was on a waiting list for two years to get a service dog that would help him become more independent.
The wait was worth it, said Prusik, 28, who was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was 2.
Now Prusik, who lives in Apex, has Taylor, a 2-year-old Golden Retriever. Taylor began training as a service dog when he was 6 months old and was donated to Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, a Carrboro nonprofit that prepares dogs to help people with disabilities.
Taylor understands about 40 commands. Like many dogs, he knows sit and stay. But he can also call 911 and go for help.
Prusik began working with Taylor in February and brought his furry companion home after graduation earlier this month.
As part of the training, Prusik and Taylor visited shopping centers so they could practice opening doors and pushing elevator buttons.
It felt great because it was the first time I was able to be on my own without having my parents or friend helping me at the mall, Prusik said.
When he was younger, Prusik could ride a bike, swim and run.
But over the years, his condition has worsened. He uses a wheelchair, and he suffers from a heart condition and breathing problems at night.
As the disease continues to progress, Prusik will likely need Taylor more and more. The dog could even reset his breathing machine if it cuts off.
Sometimes I fall forward and cant get back up, Prusik said. Taylor can push me back into a sitting position.
Matthews mother, Margaret Prusik, took part in some of Taylors training. Shes the one the dog would run to in an emergency.
Its good to know that Matthew will be able to hang out at the pool without us worrying about him, she said.
When Taylor is wearing his special vest, he knows hes on duty. Its only when Prusik issues the command release that Taylor is free to be petted and to play with the family dog, also a Golden Retriever.
Even Taylors name is special. Its in memory of Melanie Taylor, one of the first clients at Eyes Ears Nose and Paws.
Deb Cunningham, program director for the organization, matches clients with assistance dogs.
Taylor showed sensitivity to Matthews abilities, appearing to understand that Matthew cannot move his arms and has very limited grip strength, Cunningham said. Almost immediately, Taylor pushed items he was retrieving for Matthew into his hands, using care that they didnt fall out of his grasp.
Getting a service dog can cost about $20,000. Prusik, who works as a customer service representative at Home Depot in Apex, qualified for a $15,000 scholarship.
His family sells cookie-dough sets at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh to raise money for the rest.
Everyone has put a helping hand in making the ... cookies, said Prusiks sister, Adrienne Prusik.