“Keshet” (registered name Black Magic of Netiv HaAyit)
Smooth collie, female, tricolor
Born: July 13, 2007
Sire: Isr. Ch. Argent’s As Good As It Gets
Dam: Isr.Ch. Kings Valley After All
Keshet is an Alzheimer’s Aid Dog. Her partner Miriam suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s disease and for a number of years has been unable to function without assistance. Her short-term memory is very limited and progressively deteriorating, and she is prone to wander off without being aware of where she is going or how to return and is unaware and unable to protect herself from the dangers of the environment – traffic, obstacles, and so on. She is not able to ask for assistance from passersby or people who may be in the vicinity. She is worried and stressed by any changes in her environment and cannot be left unsupervised for even a moment, as she will immediately get up and wander off. Her condition has deteriorated over the years to the point where she is now suffering from advanced stages of dementia.
Keshet has been working with her for a year and a half. She has provided a highly effective solution to the problem of Miriam’s wandering. She remains with Miriam at all times. When they are outdoors, Keshet wears a harness somewhat similar to that of a guide dog for the blind. Miriam has been conditioned to always hold the leash. If she walks off and loses her orientation, Keshet is trained to bring her home. This can be accomplished by Miriam giving Keshet the command “Home!”, or by a signal being given by Miriam’s family or caretakers to a receiver on the dog’s harness – at the sound of this tone, Keshet will immediately bring her partner home. Should Miriam be unable or unwilling to follow the dog home, Keshet is trained to remain with her at all times, and to attract attention by barking in a specific tone. This tone is picked up by a special transmitter on the dog’s harness and signals to the home and cell phone of Miriam’s caretakers. There is a GPS transmitter on the harness so that the patient and dog can be easily located.
Should Miriam in some way leave the house unaccompanied (and Alzheimer’s patients are prone to simply walk off, including in the middle of the night), Keshet will come and attract the attention of the caretakers and will then lead them to the patient.
Keshet is also trained to use a “panic button” should there be any circumstances that require immediate assistance, and provides physical support if Miriam is unstable or stumbles. When they are out walking, Keshet will guide Miriam around obstacles, prevent her from walking out into the streets in traffic, stop at the curbs, and similar to ensure the safety of her partner.
Aside from her functions in guiding and returning Miriam home, Keshet provides a very important emotional support to her partner. Alzheimer’s patients suffer from pronounced feelings of fear, insecurity, and loneliness. Keshet’s companionship and affection calm her partner and provide her with emotional support and feelings of security, which do not require verbalization or memory. She also provides physical benefits. Alzheimer’s patients tend to become inactive and depressed and as a result, their physical health deteriorates. Keshet makes sure that her partner gets up in the morning. The participation in the care of the dog – feeding, walking, grooming, playing – help provide a framework of activity for Miriam’s day, and helps her physical condition.
Keshet has been working for a year and a half, and has changed the quality of life of Miriam and family profoundly. Miriam’s husband, who was unable to let her out of his sight for a minute, is now confident that she will not wander off and get lost, and that Keshet is watching out for her safety. Miriam is calmer and in better spirits. The activity and improved emotional condition help to slow the progress of the disease. The presence of the dog and her abilities to help provide important emotional support for the rest of the family as well as for Miriam.
Keshet has been trained for this task from the age of two months. For the first year, she was in a foster home, where she was socialized and exposed to city life and all the things she would need to experience and be accustomed to, and her training to return home and do the other things she needs to do in this complex task was carried out by Yariv Ben Yosef , the developer of this program, head of the Israel Center for Service and Therapy Dogs. After about a year of training, Keshet was introduced to her new partner and the training of the two together was carried out, at first by visits with the dog to accustom the two to working together, and then continued training when the dog became resident in Miriam’s home. Yariv remains available for additional assistance, should any problems or difficulties arise due to changes in the patient’s condition.
Keshet has appeared in news articles about this innovative program, and in TV spots. The patient’s family are so grateful for the improved quality of life provided by Keshet, that they were willing to appear in a TV interview, revealing the difficulties of life with an Alzheimer’s patient and the changes Keshet has made.
This is perhaps the most difficult service task that a dog can fill – the dog must be on duty 24/7, able to function under the extreme pressures of working with an Alzheimer’s patient, who may suffer from radical mood swings. The dog must be able to go on loving his partner and functioning despite behavior that can be erratic, impossible to understand and even aggressive, and, unlike other service tasks where the dog is following the commands of his master, an Alzheimer’s Aid Dog must be able to take command when necessary, not waiting for commands, but leading his partner home to safety. Very few dogs have the great heart and spirit for this task; Keshet is a very special dog.