Newport News service dog faithfully serves stroke survivor
NEWPORT NEWS — Denna Williams can't say enough about the service dog that she said has saved her life twice, has been very active in the community and is about to retire because of its age.
Williams had a stroke in 1999 when she was two months pregnant, and as part of her recovery she acquired Diamond as a helper dog in 2004.
Diamond, an Alaskan Samoa miniature, is 7 years old and nearing the age limit for service dogs. So in early 2014, she will be adopted by a senior citizen as a pet, and Williams will get a new younger service dog.
"She will have her time to rest for all the years of drama me and her have been through," Williams said. "She's just a wonderful dog. She's done so much for me and my family."
Williams, a 43-year-old Newport News resident, recovered from the stroke, moving from a wheelchair to full mobility. She still has weakness on her left side, problems with her balance, forgetfulness and occasional seizures.
Service dogs are used by people with a variety of conditions and don't just work with the blind, Williams said. Diamond is trained to watch out for Williams' surroundings, help with her balance and mobility, and call for help if it's needed.
"Sometimes when you have a brain injury you will lose your memory," Williams said. "It's like erasing your CD, and you just lose all your data. She can pick it back up for me where I left off."
In 2005 Williams had a seizure while waiting in a medical examination room, and Diamond went to the door barking for help. In 2008 while walking on a trail in Denbigh, Williams passed out and Diamond ran furiously barking until the police arrived.
"Even when I'm out, the hospital staff afterward let me know how well-trained and how attentive that she is," Williams said. "She's right there. She never left me. She sticks with me no matter what."
Williams has taken Diamond into the community to educate people about service dogs and to let them interact with her. She volunteers with Diamond at Riverside Rehabilitation Center in Hampton.
"They get to see and touch the dog, which is a very important thing for our folks, the long-term folks, that they have that connection," said Beth Dropski, director of activities and volunteers at Riverside.
"Even though the dog is not being used in a service capacity here like it is for Denna, it certainly brings a lot of peace and comfort to our residents,"
Williams has been an advocate for the service dog community as well, using problems she encounters entering stores and public areas as an educational opportunity for employees and customers. She said she has been stopped for bringing her dog in, and though service dogs are allowed she still has to get help from the Newport News Police Department from time to time.
Williams hopes to do more with supporting other disabled people with service dogs, and with educating businesses and the community on interacting with them. She is still working through the emotions associated with Diamond's retirement.
"I hate to think about it sometimes, I really do, because I get so emotional," Williams said. "She's like my baby, my own kid. I think about that all the time. But I know she's going to love that next person just as well, going to take care of that person."
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-247-4644.
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