Bryan and Amanda hired professional dog trainers to locate rescue dogs and train them. They have a close relationship with people who work at multiple dog shelters and rescues. Based on a dog’s behavior, the shelter or rescue worker can identify trainable dogs. The training takes between 9 and 12 months. “Each dog will be specifically trained for the person it’s going to serve,” Amanda said.
People with multiple sclerosis can apply at the Bickell’s website to receive a free service dog. “We know the need is great,” Bryan said. “And the people who apply will be trained on how to work with the dogs they receive.”
Follow up is essential, too. “If you’re not a good trainer, a dog could get off track,” Amanda said. “So we’re going to keep in touch with the recipients.”
“MS is forever changing,” Bryan said. “So the dogs in our program are going to learn new tricks, depending on the people they’re paired with. For instance, a person diagnosed with MS may start out with improper balance. Over time, that person may need to use a wheelchair. The dog needs to adapt and learn. So do the recipients. That’s why we will be in contact with the people who receive our dogs.”
Those accepted into the program will receive the dogs for free; they’ll pay for their dog’s veterinary and food bills.
“This is really a natural for us,” Amanda said. “These dogs can do a lot of good.”
In addition to their rescue work and new service dog program, Bryan and Amanda hope to educate others about multiple sclerosis. After Bryan’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, the couple immersed themselves in learning about the disease.
Prior to his diagnosis, Bryan experienced symptoms that he thought were vertigo. “This was during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs,” he said.
After his symptoms got worse, he went for medical testing and found out he had recurring multiple sclerosis. Shortly after that, he decided to quit professional hockey. His last game was on April 9, and he scored a shootout goal. He played 11 games of the 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ron Francis, the Hurricane’s general manager, has the utmost praise for Bryan. “To be told that’s what you’re dealing with, knowing it affects your livelihood and what you love to do, it’s not easy. I learned a lot about him by watching him deal with things that are out of his control. From day one to the present, Bryan is nothing short of remarkable.”
Bryan played on Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2010, 2013, and 2015. He was traded to the Hurricanes on June 15 of last year. From his peak to the progression of the disease, he said, “there’s a difference in my game. It’s a big change. I’m happy to finish up and move on.”
It doesn’t sound like he’s slowing down. One priority is spending time with his family. “I didn’t have that luxury when I was on the road,” he said.
He and Amanda also plan on educating others about multiple sclerosis, continuing the work at his foundation, and growing their MS service dog program.
November 21, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN