If you have any doubts about a dog’s ability to be a best friend, just ask West Hempstead resident Leslie Cohen about her assistance dog, Nardo.
“I’m always dropping things,” Cohen told the Herald. “Nardo is hardworking and patient. Whether I’m in my scooter or using my walker, he loves to help. He’s always getting me my cell phone, my keys and even my laundry, piece by piece. He’s an unbelievable gift, and I couldn’t be as active without him.
Cohen has had multiple sclerosis for 23 years. She does her daily chores either ensconced in a scooter, which gives her mobility, or by using a walker. Nardo is a 5-year-old Lab-golden retriever mix that was provided to her three years ago by Canine Companions for Independence, a Medford-based nonprofit that has offered a variety of service and assistance dogs for 38 years.
Cohen says he makes a more normal life possible. “Nardo is highly trained and inconspicuous,” she said. “I can take him anywhere, although there are places, such as the hair salon, where I don’t normally take him. We even took him on a flight to California to see my daughter. When the flight was over and we were getting off the plane, other passengers told us they didn’t even know he was there during the flight.”
Assistance dogs typically wear brightly colored vests sporting the organization’s logo. Nardo’s is blue with a yellow logo. When he is wearing it, Cohen said, he is “working.” When he is in uniform, he won’t even easily allow strangers to pet him.
“He just gives them a look that says, ‘Don’t bother me, I’m working,’” she said with a laugh.
When the vest comes off, however, Nardo is just like any dog, and he likes to take long walks and roughhouse with Leslie’s husband, Daniel. “Daniel is the one who has to exercise him when he comes home from work each night,” she said. “He doesn’t get enough exercise walking next to my scooter in the supermarket or when I’m using my walker. He’s become attached to my husband.”
Cohen and Nardo werescheduled to receive an award from Canine Companions on Thursday at a Manhattan dinner celebrating the fifth anniversary of the organization’s Miller Family Campus in Medford, from which some 200 people in need and their assistance dogs have “graduated.”
Cohen is clearly thankful for her canine companion. “Nardo has made a tremendous difference in my life,” she said. “I’m much more confident going out with Nardo than I was previously.”
“We’re so pleased to honor Leslie Cohen, who is always an inspiration to the Canine Companions for Independence family,” said Debra Dougherty, the organization’s Northeast Region executive director. “It’s now been three years since Leslie was matched with Nardo, and we couldn’t be happier that he continues to make such a positive impact in her life. Leslie and her husband, Daniel, have been tireless supporters of CCI, and we’re proud to honor her achievements at our Hearts and Heroes gala on May 9.”