Westborough resident seeks help raising funds for service dog
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Westborough – When asked what it is like to suffer from vertigo, Westborough resident Juanita Maranda, 39, is very descriptive.
“When you were kid, did you ever close your eyes and spin around?” she explained. “Then open your eyes and everything is still spinning around? That's what it feels like.”
Vertigo is more than just occasional dizziness. Symptoms can include loss of balance, nausea, blurred vision, problems walking properly, problems standing still, and earache. People with vertigo may find it harder to move around because the spinning sensation affects balance.
Juanita has what her doctors have called “sensory” vertigo which means it is triggered by the surroundings, rather than an inner ear problem, which is a more common cause.
Even the most routine tasks, like grocery shopping or bending over to pick up an item off the floor, can be a challenge.
“I can's go to certain supermarkets because of the lights and the patterns on the floor,” she noted.
The condition affects Juanita to some degree every day. “Sometimes it is all day off and on,” she said. “And other days it's only occasionally.”
The fear of a sudden attack, however, is constant.
“My biggest fear is falling,” she admitted.
When she is out, she uses her mother, Francine, or a cane for support. Her mother suffers from Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear which also affects balance. Often she is unable to help Juanita when she is having a “bad day.”
Juanita also has the help of her service dog, Ben, a mutt that she rescued from a shelter and had trained to alert her when an anxiety or vertigo attack is coming on. “I don's know how it works,” she said. “But he can sense it and alerts me by rubbing against my leg.”
Ben is almost 10 years old, however, and is close to retirement. In addition, given his owner's height – 5″11″ – he is much too small to help with Juanita's balance.
She is currently trying to raise money for a new, bigger service dog, fitted with a harness and specifically trained to aid with balance and stability, as well as to pick up items off the floor.
After a lengthy application process, in 2011 Juanita was accepted as a candidate for a service dog through Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. The organization's mission is to enable people with disabilities to gain greater independence and mobility through the use of specially educated dogs.
ECAD is also the closest organization that trains dogs specifically to help with balance. They continually breed their own dogs and train them, so new dogs are available to clients as soon as possible. According to Juanita, she will most likely receive a golden retriever (one of the most common service dogs) or a Great Dane/Labrador mix.
Juanita's challenge now is to raise the $8,500 necessary to purchase the dog, since she will receive no state or federal financial assistance.
Once the money is raised, she will wait for a dog meeting her requirements to be available, and then travel to ECAD for two weeks to bond with her new friend and learn the commands.
“The sooner we can raise the money, the sooner they can start looking for the right dog,” she said.
Juanita loves the arts and is an avid crafter and sewer. She attempted to earn a degree in graphic arts at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, but her anxiety and vertigo prevented her from continuing.
Now she is putting her creativity to use to raise the funds for her new service dog. With her mother's help, she will be selling handmade cards and gift boxes at local events. She has already raised $500 and the Westborough Rotary has pledged to donate another $500. She will be attending the 15th annual Pet Rock festival at Quinsigamond College in Worcester, Sunday, Sept. 8, with a booth to promote ECAD, as well as Arts on the Common in Westborough, Saturday, Sept. 28, and the Metrowest Humane Society annual craft fair in Framingham, Saturday, Sept. 21.
For those who would like to donate, but cannot attend one of the events, visit her website www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/2cc2/medicalservicedog.
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