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Trainer’s gift to change life of blind, deaf young man

McCOMB – For Robert Wells, independence comes in the form of abrown Doberman pinscher named Rocco.

The 22-year-old deaf and blind McComb resident was united withhis service dog Wednesday evening at a local restaurant. Wellssigned to communicate with trainer Beverly Greenwood as familymembers talked about the dog and what it will mean for Wells.

Annie Gene Allen, Wells’ mother, said they recently moved out ofan apartment to the home of her new husband, Roosevelt. She saidthe dog will help provide independence and companionship for herson.

“He can go outside with the dog, go places and the dog will behis friend,” Allen said.

Greenwood has been training Rocco at her Ruth residence forseveral months. In the coming months, Wells and Rocco will learn towork together.

“For the next week, they won’t do anything but be at hometogether,” Greenwood said.

Then, Greenwood said, there will be training sessions aboutevery two weeks until both are adjusted to interacting with eachother. She said the training pace will be up to Wells.

“They’ll learn continuously forever,” Greenwood said. “I hopethey’re a pair for the next 12 to 13 years.”

Greenwood has about 18 dogs working across the country, as faraway as California. Rocco and Wells, though, represent the firsttime she has been able to train a dog for someone in her homearea.

“I’m just glad to see one working locally,” Greenwood said.”I’ve always wanted to do a local dog.”

Wells and Rocco were united following a request from Lu Coon, anurse practitioner who works with Wells’ mother at the Bogue ChittoFamily Clinic. Coon said she learned about a service dog Greenwoodtrained for an autistic child and then made the request forWells.

“I’ve known him since he was little,” Coon said.

Despite his disabilities, Coon indicated Wells is able tofunction in society.

“He does communicate. He is very intelligent,” Coon said.

Jean Norton, Greenwood’s partner in an equine rescue operationin Ruth, said 2-year-old Rocco came from a Baton Rouge veterinarianwho was looking for a good home for the dog. The service dogsGreenwood trains are mostly mutts and come from a variety ofplaces, such as rescue leagues.

After getting a request for a service dog, Greenwood finds adog, conducts a temperament test and, after passage, beginspreliminary training. That training can take up to two years.

Greenwood does not look for dogs unless she has a specificneed.

“I do not accept them unless I have a request for a servicedog,” Greenwood said.

She said there is no charge for the dog or services. Whennecessary, she does try to get travel-related expenses coveredthrough donations or other means.

A service dog recipient must be legally disabled, Greenwoodsaid. That can include physical or mental disabilities.

A special account has been set up at AmSouth Bank for Wells. Theaccount is to help with veterinarian bills, food and otherdog-related expenses.

Greenwood was hoping for a long and beneficial relationship notonly for Wells but for Rocco as well.

“Service dogs have a wonderful life,” Greenwood said.

Requests for service dogs may be made via e-mail tochoctawridge@bellsouth.net.