Jessica Gutierrez and her therapy dog, Belle
Jessica Gutierrez is a young woman who was born with mental and physical disabilities.
“People think I am different because I talk slow and I’m in a wheelchair,” says Jessica in her book, Belle & Me, which is about her therapy dog and the difference Belle has made in her life. “Having my service dog gives me the courage to try new things. I feel comfortable and safe when Belle is with me.”
Despite her limitations, Jessica considers herself an “Ambassador” to help people understand the role assistant animals play in the lives of people like her. When she’s out in public with Belle, she welcomes questions from people who come up to say hello, and she appreciates when people respect her space and understand her dog is working, and that it’s not OK to simply come up and pet Belle.
In her book, Jessica lists how Belle takes care of her by helping to pick up items she drops, keeping her calm in public, protecting her, staying nearby her wheelchair being a great listener and companion who is quick to cheer her up when she’s sad. Belle also accompanies Jessica to the doctor or dentist. “Belle keeps my anxiety down,” says Jessica. “Belle gives me her paw so I keep calm.”
In turn, Jessica takes care of Belle, and this, says her mother Kim, has made a great difference in her life and given Jessica a sense of purpose she didn’t have before. Every day Jessica brushes Belle’s coat and teeth, feeds her and makes sure she has water. Jessica also rewards Belle with baby carrots and other treats when she practices Belle’s commands to sit, stand, jump, or lay down next to Jessica’s wheelchair. And of course, when Belle needs to visit the animal doctor, Jessica is there to keep her anxiety down by holding Belle’s paw.