Dog star: Kazu helps keep teacher in classroom
When Pauline Siegel's laundry has finished drying, she gives a simple command and her dog Kazu springs to action.
The black lab-retriever mix finds a laundry basket and pulls it down the hallway by an attached rope.
He tugs it through the kitchen and living room and into the laundry room, where he yanks open the dryer door. Then he carefully unloads the dryer, using his mouth to carefully pile every last shirt and sock into the basket, and drags the clothes back to Siegel to be folded.
He might get a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears -- but for Kazu, just knowing he has helped his owner with a physically demanding task is reward enough.
"They live for seeing your joy, happiness and excitement," Siegel said. "They know what their job is, and they're very proud to do it."
Siegel, 53, has transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Eighteen years ago, the disease took most of her mobility below the waist.
The Powell resident is now able to walk with the help of canes, but she spends most of her time in a wheelchair.
"I'm a fourth-grade teacher, and fortunately, I was able to continue teaching, but it was exhausting," she said. "My legs aren't strong, so for me to walk across the room is an event, and it's incredibly difficult for me to get down to pick something up that I dropped.
"But now, any step Kazu takes for me is one that I don't have to take."
Kazu accompanies Siegel every day to her classroom at Worthington Estates Elementary School, where she continues to teach.
With more than 50 basic commands mastered, Kazu's bag of tricks is deep. When Siegel drops her cellphone or pen, Kazu eagerly picks it up and returns it to her lap. He fetches her shoes, flips light switches, opens and closes doors, and even pulls off his owner's socks at the end of the day.
"We call him the Amazing Kazu because he just never ceases to amaze us," she said.
Siegel received her service dog five years ago through Canine Companions for Independence, whose regional headquarters is located in Delaware.
Development Associate Ashley Koehler said the organization currently has 61 service dogs working to provide physical assistance and companionship for residents of central Ohio.
Before receiving a service dog, candidates undergo an evaluation process, then are paired with a dog that best suits their needs.
Siegel said she bonded almost immediately with Kazu after they were matched.
"I realized pretty quickly that this wonderful creature can change your life more than I could have ever imagined," she said. "I just fell in love with him right away."
Dana Coughlin is a longtime friend of Siegel's who has taught fourth grade alongside her for 20 years. She said she has seen firsthand how Kazu has improved her friend's life.
"Before she got Kazu, she was never a complainer, but now that I see what he does for her, I can see that it saves her so much stress," Coughlin said. "Our classrooms are full of desks and computers and furniture and chairs; it's sometimes even hard for me to get around. Having Kazu there for her is such a big help."
Kazu does find time to be a regular dog. He eagerly looks forward to his next bowl of kibble, and he likes to chase balls and Frisbees.
"And his most favorite thing to do is snooze," Siegel said.