Service dogs are pretty much amazing. They can open doors, turn light switches on and off, pick up tiny objects and even alert their diabetic handlers when their blood sugar gets low.
These docile animals are trained to help people with disabilities and diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. They’re loyal companions who can comfort their handlers, including veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, in times of stress.
Most importantly, they help give their humans greater independence, according to Freedom Service Dogs of America, a nonprofit that rescues dogs and trains them to help people with disabilities.
Here are five selfless service dogs making the world a better place.
1. Mr. Gibbs
As a baby, Alida Knobloch was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that makes it difficult for her to breathe normally on her own for more than 45 minutes. Enter Mr. Gibbs, a 60-pound golden doodle that carries oxygen tanks on his back for Alida.
The pup can trot alongside Alida’s bike, hang out with her while she plays at home and sit beneath her high chair while she eats, according to Reader’s Digest.
These two have an inseparable—and inspiring—bond.
“His job is to do whatever she does,” dog trainer Ashleigh Kinsleigh said.
Bridget Evans and her service dog Hero graduated in 2013 from the University of Illinois—Hero even wore a royal blue cap and gown, just like Evans, who earned a master’s degree in community health and hospital administration.
“He’s been with me through all my classes,” Evans told Today. “He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did.”
Evans was born with spina bifida, which limits her mobility. Because of Hero, she said, she never missed a class.
After a photo of Evans, then 24, and her dedicated chocolate lab went viral, Hero’s popularity skyrocketed. She said she also got stopped every few seconds at the graduation ceremony so people could take photos.
“I’ve never had so many Facebook friend requests for my dog in his entire life,” she said. “I’m just along for the ride!”
Capt. Jason Haag spent 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Purple Heart-winner sustained multiple brain injuries during his combat service and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
At one point, he was drinking and taking up to 32 pain medications a day to deal with anxiety, nightmares and hyper-vigilance. Eventually he reached out to K9s for Warriors and met Axel, a German shepherd who Haag now credits with saving his life.
“Axel hit the reset button for me and gave me the desire to stop using prescription medications,” according to Haag’s Facebook page. “In time, I began picking up my kids from the bus stop, attending school plays and functions, and now am able to fully enjoy the family time I had avoided before. Axel is on guard all day, every day, performing his duties by pulling me back into reality and physically calming me during severe panic attacks.”
Though he’s deaf, Luca the pit bull is an amazing therapy dog for at-risk teens. That’s because his owners Brooke Slater and Dave Goldstein trained him to maintain constant eye contact so he could follow their signal commands, according to National Geographic.
Luca inspired his owners to start Bruised Not Broken, a rescue group that aims to change the public’s perceptions about pit bills. They even made Luca the CEO!
Sandy Steinblums took Ace, a yellow lab in training to be a guide dog for the blind, to Disneyland for a little socializing last year. Ace got super excited when he got the chance to meet Disney character Pluto at the theme park and a video of the two “dogs” interacting went viral.
Steinblums is a volunteer for Guide Dogs of America and explained on Facebook that after the video camera was turned off, Ace settled down while Pluto tried unsuccessfully to rile him up. At the time, Ace had months of extensive training ahead of him and was still learning.
“Ace entered his ‘formal’ guide dog training at the end of January,” she wrote. “My ‘job’ as a volunteer was to socialize and provide him with obedience training. This was a training outing and I was too far back to correct him, but golly-be … he responded anyway.”