Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
The first thing you notice when you enter Office Products Warehouse at 135 S. Main in downtown Irving is that they have some unusual helpers on hand – or on paw, should I say.
Cookie and Candi are the two bright-eyed golden retrievers that keep co-owner Sherry Aubey safe.
Nearly twenty years ago, Sherry survived a traumatic brain injury after falling down stairs. She fractured her skull and has been left with a seizure disorder. Grand mal seizures are rare, but petit mal seizures afflict her several times every day.
“I have to come up here and sit with Vic every day because I can’t stay alone now,” said Sherry. “The dogs stay with me and tend to me. If I have seizures, Cookie will lick my face and try to rouse me out of the seizures, and it always works. He carries bags for me and helps me find my way home, because I have a lot of memory problems now. Also, I have no sense of smell anymore, and he can alert me to a gas leak or a fire.”
“She also has equilibrium problems, and she can lean on him,” added Vic Aubey. “He’ll stiffen up when she leans on his head.
“It’s really given her some of her freedom back. She can follow Cookie through the mall, so now she can go by herself.”
Cookie finds the right door to exit the mall, and he also amazes his owners with his ability to find the car in the parking lot. On one occasion, Vic had to move the car while Sherry and Cookie were inside – and Cookie still led the way directly to their vehicle.
Golden retrievers are gregarious and bright, but it takes a lot more than a gentle nature and intelligence to be awarded the ADA Service Animal vest.
“I trained him myself,” said Vic. “I grew up on a farm in Beaumont, TX with lots of animals, and my grandfather was a horse whisperer. I’ve been training animals all my life.
“Well, after Sherry got hurt, one of her doctors recommended that we get a dog just as a companion because she needed something to give her purpose. She was not doing well.
“Our first dog was Biscuit, and I think he was part mutt and part rabbit by the way he hopped. We found out that he could find his way back home. So that meant Sherry could walk down the street and then come back again. Before that, she’d get lost. She didn’t remember our house…she didn’t even remember me.”
After that accidental discovery, Vic concentrated on teaching Biscuit more responsibilities. Biscuit was followed by Muffin, a collie that was Sherry’s companion for over ten years. Then came Cookie, now four years old, and Candi, who at 12 months is just beginning her apprenticeship.
Having the distinctive red Service Animal vest, Cookie can now accompany Sherry almost anywhere.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act is responsible for the designation,” Vic explained. “As long as the dog meets minimal training standards and can do at least one thing to help the person live a normal life. Cookie got his designation as a Seizure Response Dog.
“I wouldn’t recommend that most people try to train a dog yourself. There’s a lot of serious work these dogs have to do, and you have to prove they’re focused when they’re wearing the vest. Not being distracted by people, or by the smell of food – that’s hard to teach. When Cookie wears that vest, he knows the difference. He’s just a good little soldier.
“Candi is nowhere near to being able to get her own vest.”
Dog training is still just an avocation for Vic Aubey, though – he’s a businessman by day.
“I’ve been in the office supply business for 35 years and I’ve owned this company for 12 years,” he said. “We moved here two-and-a-half year ago because we thought the location was cute, and we needed to downsize anyway with the recession.
“Then one day we saw some folks from the City were outside, and I was curious. I went out and started talking to them. One of them, Teresa Adrian, asked if I’d like to have a post office location in here.
“We’d been seriously praying about some way to bring more business in here. It was a true answer to our prayer.”
Vic is the bass player in the praise band at First Baptist in the Heritage District, and not one to overlook a sign. From a start that saw maybe a handful of patrons in a month, the postal business has grown – “Some days we see several hundred people come in,” Vic said.
And they all know Cookie.
“I’d love to take him to visit the patients at Children’s Hospital,” Vic said, “but you have to put the dog through a training program first, and I don’t really have time right now.
“Maybe I’ll just run him for mayor.”