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March 17, 2005

Trainer's gift to change life of blind, deaf young man

From: Brookhaven Daily Leader - Brookhaven,MS,USA - Mar 17, 2005

March 17, 2005

McCOMB - For Robert Bell, independence comes in the form of a brown Doberman pinscher named Rocco.

The 22-year-old deaf and blind McComb resident was united with his service dog Wednesday evening at a local restaurant. Bell signed to communicate with trainer Beverly Greenwood as family members talked about the dog and what it will mean for Bell.

Annie Gene Allen, Bell's mother, said they recently moved out of an apartment to the home of her new husband, Roosevelt. She said the dog will help provide independence and companionship for her son.

"He can go outside with the dog, go places and the dog will be his friend," Allen said.

Greenwood has been training Rocco at her Ruth residence for several months. In the coming months, Bell and Rocco will learn to work together.

"For the next week, they won't do anything but be at home together," Greenwood said.

Then, Greenwood said, there will be training sessions about every two weeks until both are adjusted to interacting with each other. She said the training pace will be up to Bell.

"They'll learn continuously forever," Greenwood said. "I hope they're a pair for the next 12 to 13 years."

Greenwood has about 18 dogs working across the country, as far away as California. Rocco and Bell, though, represent the first time she has been able to train a dog for someone in her home area.

"I'm just glad to see one working locally," Greenwood said. "I've always wanted to do a local dog."

Bell and Rocco were united following a request from Lu Coon, a nurse practitioner who works with Bell's mother at the Bogue Chitto Family Clinic. Coon said she learned about a service dog Greenwood trained for an autistic child and then made the request for Bell.

"I've known him since he was little," Coon said.

Despite his disabilities, Coon indicated Bell is able to function in society.

"He does communicate. He is very intelligent," Coon said.

Jean Norton, Greenwood's partner in an equine rescue operation in Ruth, said 2-year-old Rocco came from a Baton Rouge veterinarian who was looking for a good home for the dog. The service dogs Greenwood trains are mostly mutts and come from a variety of places, such as rescue leagues.

After getting a request for a service dog, Greenwood finds a dog, conducts a temperament test and, after passage, begins preliminary training. That training can take up to two years.

Greenwood does not look for dogs unless she has a specific need.

"I do not accept them unless I have a request for a service dog," Greenwood said.

She said there is no charge for the dog or services. When necessary, she does try to get travel-related expenses covered through donations or other means.

A service dog recipient must be legally disabled, Greenwood said. That can include physical or mental disabilities.

A special account has been set up at AmSouth Bank for Bell. The account is to help with veterinarian bills, food and other dog-related expenses.

Greenwood was hoping for a long and beneficial relationship not only for Bell but for Rocco as well.

"Service dogs have a wonderful life," Greenwood said.

Requests for service dogs may be made via e-mail to

©The Daily Leader 2005