Here comes Megamo
The North's first special skills dog coming to Yellowknife

Sarah Holland
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 19/99) - Emily Jackson has a permanent, degenerative spinal cord injury.

Some days, Emily says you can hardly notice she has a disability, and other days she likens it to having multiple sclerosis. Emily has problems bending, walking with stability and experiences chronic pain.

"The pain is hard on me and my family. It often makes me tired and cranky," says Emily.

She has tried crutches and canes, but they've proven ineffective, especially in this icy climate.

In 1992, Emily began looking around North America for a special skills dog to help with stability and chores such as lifting and carrying various objects, but experienced a number of obstacles.

The waiting lists for dogs is usually years, sometimes it takes years just to get onto a waiting list. Because Emily is able to walk, she needs a specialized program, not the common special skills dog for wheelchair-bound people.

Living in the North also proved to be a problem, since organizations found her virtually inaccessible.

Despite these disheartening realities, Emily spent numerous hours filling out applications, booklet-sized questionnaires, reference and criminal records checks and watching videos.

Emily found some waiting lists full, and she was eliminated by some organizations because she is not in a wheelchair.

"I ran into waiting lists everywhere," explains Emily.

"I've been on one Canadian waiting list since 1993, and I still haven't even been interviewed to see if I qualify to be on the list."

One evening, Emily finally received a phone call from a Washington women's prison program. She was going to get a dog from them. But after applying she later learned they had revamped the program, and Yellowknife ended up being too far away and too costly.

In the meantime, Emily had been talking to a woman named Sue Hoffman from Key Companion Dogs in Bolton, Ont. After all the waiting, frustration and disappointments, Emily finally said to Sue, "I need a dog, let's do it."

Most groups provide the dogs for free, as they do the fund-raising and absorb the cost themselves. Emily did not get so lucky with the group from whom she could get a dog.

With Key Companion Dogs, Emily would have to pay thousands of dollars, plus travelling expenses.

Emily has been assigned a dog from Key Companion Dogs, and has been fund-raising herself, receiving some of the money from Vocational Rehab, and one flight donated by First Air. There is still $7,000 plus airfare fees to raise. This is no simple task, as Emily has unsuccessfully pleaded her case to organizations around Yellowknife.

"Some groups say they don't help individuals, and others don't want to set a precedent -- they feel if they give money to me, others would ask, and then where would they draw the line?" says Emily.

She will continue to fund-raise on her own, and hopes that her community will help her cause.

Regardless of the monetary consequences, Emily is excited about her dog. He is an oversized golden retriever named Megamo, who arrives in Yellowknife on March 30. He will be the first special skills dog in the NWT. Not only is Megamo intelligent and special, he also serves a very important purpose. With his arrival, Emily's quality of life will dramatically improve.