At just seven years old, LanDan Olivia was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The effects of these syndromes make it hard for LanDan Olivia to stand on her own and often restrict her to a wheelchair.
But LanDan Olivia doesn’t feel restricted, and that is in big part due to her assistance dog and best friend Perkins, who keeps the 11-year-old smiling and active every day.
The road to Perkins started shortly after LanDan’s diagnosis. She and her mom reached out to Canine Companions for Independence for an assistance dog to help LanDan Olivia conquer the everyday tasks that had now become a struggle for her.
“I was in my wheelchair, and it was really hard to get around, and open doors and drawers, and close them, and I would drop things and couldn’t pick them up. Sometimes even emotionally, I also felt like I needed help with things that a person could not understand,” she told PEOPLE. “Perkins just feels me. I needed someone like Perkins in my life.”
After two years of waiting, LanDan Olivia received the call she’d been dreaming of from Canine Companions for Independence, an invitation to Team Training. There, Perkins was waiting to meet his future owner and best buddy, having already gone through a year and a half of basic training, so they could begin working on a relationship that catered to LanDan Olivia’s specific needs.
The pair left training with a solid connection that has only strengthened over time. Along with helping LanDan Olivia brush her hair, pick up objects, open cupboards and turn book pages, Perkins provides her with qualities that can’t be trained, but are instead fostered by their bond.
“Before, I had a hole in my heart, and now, that hole is filled, and it just makes me feel so happy. Having Perkins in my life just makes my quality of life so much better. And I love him,” LanDan Olivia shared.
Among the things she loves about Perkins is his “silly side,” adorable prance and just how he is “so cute” in general.
She is excited to share all of this with animal lovers as part of International Assistance Dog Week (Aug. 6 -12) with Eukanuba and Canine Companions for Independence. Eukanuba, a long-time partner of Canine Companions for Independence, is working with the group to raise awareness about the importance of assistance dogs like Perkins, and the benefits they bring to the lives of so many.
“I want people to know that they can’t go online and buy a vest, and just say their pet dog is an assistance dog,” LanDan Olivia said when asked what she wants others to know about assistance dogs. “It’s confusing to the public, and it hurts those people who have a real working assistance dog.”
She also wants people to see that Perkins is more than a response to her disabilities.
“He also helps me emotionally, and makes me feel happy because I know that I always have a friend I can go play with.”