Service dog gives Minnesota woman newfound confidence – Reuters


ALEXANDRIA, Minnesota — On a winter’s day in 2006, Tammy Hiltner made her regular commute along Interstate 94, with evidence of a snowstorm. It was about an hour from Freeport, Minnesota, to his job at St. Michael in Wright County.

Shortly after arriving for her shift, her supervisor told her she had to get home before the weather got worse.

Minutes after he left, at the bottom of I-94 on the ramp, an ice patch sent Hiltner spinning two lanes into the shoulder of the median. The back of her 1994 Explorer was toward the fence, and she was facing oncoming traffic.

Hiltner remembers a tractor-trailer in the passing lane approaching him. He began to slow, which caused his trailer to whirl towards Hiltner.

“I remember saying, ‘Lord, if it’s my time…’ Well, I’ve made peace,” Hiltner, now 60, recalled.

The trailer hit her, pushing the Explorer towards the median fence and throwing Hiltner forward, causing him to hit the steering wheel in the face. The airbags did not deploy.

Since the accident, Hiltner has undergone several surgeries, mostly on his back. One of her surgeries left her with neuropathy, sciatica and spinal stenosis. Nerve damage from her hips down causes pain when she stands or sits for long periods of time, and her sleep is troublesome.

She had a spinal stimulator inserted to block pain signals from her back to her brain and battled a staph infection caused by the device. She could have died, according to the doctors.

“My back will never be the same again,” said Hiltner, who now lives in Alexandra, Minnesota.

But in February 2021, a 4-year-old black British lab named Magnum came into her life.

Tammy Hiltner holds her service dog, Magnum, by the paws. He helps her with daily household chores and helps ease her anxiety.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

Magnum is a Certified Mobility Assistance Dog trained from

Can Do Canines in New Hope, Minnesota.

He assists Hiltner with daily tasks: turning light switches, opening the door to her apartment, and retrieving items on command should she fall. He also provides a mobility aid that could allow him to stand up. He even helps her take off her jacket by pulling on the sleeves.

“He’s my stress buster. He gets rid of my anxiety and distracts me,” Hiltner said. “I just feel a lot more confident to be able to do things. I wouldn’t be as confident if he was gone.”

With her truck driver husband and son living over an hour away, Magnum is the perfect company to lend a hand.

Hiltner and her husband began researching service dogs after daily chores became too much of a hassle. They found that many places were out of their price range.

Then they heard about Can Do Canines, which provides service dogs for free in addition to a $50 application fee.

Can Do Canines is “a service dog company dedicated to improving the quality of life for adults and children with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs,” said Caren Hansen, Marketing and Communications Manager. of Can Do Canines.

Hiltner and her husband thought they seemed trustworthy and impressed with the company’s history, so they applied.

A customer services team determines the specific skills a dog could potentially perform for a customer to understand the extent of the need.

Hiltner 0035.jpg
On June 26, 2021, Tammy Hiltner and Magnum earned their certificate as a Certified Mobility Assistance Dog Team.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

“Several factors, including referrals, interviews, etc., play a role in the decision-making process for which clients are accepted,” Hansen said.

“They start training them at 5 weeks old, until they are about 2, 2 and a half years old,” Hiltner said. “They provide you with a kennel, food and a cape. They work with you.”

Hansen says choosing a dog for each particular client is a careful and thoughtful process.

“We do some assessments with each dog to see what their real passion really is. A hearing dog, for example, is often extremely alert and impatient, because they’re working 24/7,” Hansen said. “We pride ourselves on not only giving our dogs a say in what they become, but also customizing each dog to their client’s unique needs.”

Can Do Canines trains its dogs in five areas of disability: hearing, mobility, seizures, diabetes and autism.

Ever since he came into his life, Magnum has been a miracle worker for Hiltner. One night she was experiencing tremors in her legs and feet when Magnum jumped into bed and laid her head on her leg.

“To date, since he did that, I haven’t had any tremors in my feet. None. I don’t know what he did,” Hiltner said. “There’s just something about him. He has an aura around him that people magnetize onto him.”


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