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Sita touches lives wherever she goes

Sita, a yellow lab mix who was rescued from the Clark County pound, near Cincinnati, is now a service dog for her hearing impaired owner, Jane Biehl of Canton. The pair regularly make weekend visits to the Tuscarawas County area to rest and relax.

Jennifer Kneuss

When Jane Biehl visits Tuscarawas County several times each year for rest and relaxation, she doesn’t visit alone. She is accompanied by her faithful companion, Sita, when she stays in a local hotel and drops by her favorite county haunts, including the Daily Grind Café in New Philadelphia. Sita is a service dog for Biehl, who is hearing impaired. The beautiful yellow lab mix is constantly on the alert, notifying Biehl whenever anyone approaches in any way, or when sirens, alarms, or other warning signs sound. Sita wears a bright yellow and orange vest, designating her as a service dog, and warning others not to pet her.

“I teach classes at Kent State Stark campus, an introduction to interpreting (for the deaf) course, and during class, Sita stays there on her special blanket, completely professional and alert. After class, I take off her vest, and then she is all about being Miss Social and being petted by my students. When she is wearing the vest, I have to give her permission to allow someone other than myself to touch her,” explained Biehl, who has been deaf since birth. The college professor first discovered the Tuscarawas County area more than 10 years ago, and ever since has made a point to come and stay on a regular basis, patronizing her favorite businesses and enjoying the many offerings of the county.

Biehl said that a hearing impaired friend of hers was severely injured during a nighttime robbery. After that, her family insisted she acquire a service dog to assist her. “I applied to Circle Tails, outside of Cincinnati. All of their service dogs are rescued. They were ready to put Sita down at the Clark County Pound, but then she was rescued by Circle Tails. She did her training at the Clark and Lucas County prisons, with a prisoner training her. We think she is about six-years-old. They had her in training for a year, and I have had her for about two years.”

Biehl told how, during her own 60 hours of training, she was told that if Sita should disobey a command, it was most likely because something was wrong. She credits Sita with saving both their lives in a parking lot, when Sita refused a command, alarming Biehl to move herself and the dog to safety. Seconds later, a car careened right through the spot where they had been standing. “She knew something was wrong, and alerted me. I feel so much safer with her in my life. The wonderful thing is that I only had to pay a $25 application fee, and other than that, obtaining her was free. It costs Circle Tails $15,000 or so for the year of training, but they provide the dogs at no cost. It’s a wonderful program, it really is.”

Biehl now provides programs to educate community groups about service dogs and the world of the hearing impaired. “I never take money for those programs, but I do ask that they give any donations to Circle Tails,” she noted.

In addition to being a professor in the deaf culture program, Biehl, who has a master’s degree in library science and a doctorate in counseling, and also is a writer, works as a clinical counselor at Northeast Ohio Behavioral Health, Ltd, primarily with deaf clients.

“Although Sita is not supposed to be a therapy dog, I will never forget how one day I had a woman in my office who was having a really rough time, and she was just sobbing as I tried to comfort her. Without any commands, Sita rose, went over to my desk, pulled a Kleenex out of the box, and trotted over and gave it to the client. She had seen me do that so many times that she somehow knew that was the right thing to do when someone was crying. The woman said, ‘oh, Sita, you made my day.’ Sita is wonderful, just wonderful.”

Sita has become a celebrity in her own right. The Dog Lovers’ Wine Company, part of Carivintas Winery, a California company that has a heavy bent toward philanthropy for rescued dogs, was looking for a service dog for the label for a new wine.

“I sent Carivintas an article about Sita that I had written, including the information about her being trained as part of a prison inmate rehabilitation program, and they immediately picked her,” Biehl said. “They called the wine ‘Sita and Jane Thanksgiving Red’.” Sita is a calendar girl, too. She is featured, along with her neighbor dog and playmate, Max, a black lab, on the Circle Tail calendar.

Perhaps the special gifts Sita brings to those whose lives she touches can be summed up best in the words of the anonymous prison inmate who, as a trained dog handler, worked with Sita as part of his own rehabilitation before she was placed with Jane Biehl:

“With (my) cold, private heart (Sita) taught me to open my arms and to receive her joyful kisses and embrace her love of life. I set out to teach her how to become a better dog; instead she trained me to become a better person. I know! It just seems backwards.

“I have taught this loving companion nothing compared to what she has taught me…

“My mission with her, in the short time I was to have her, was to teach her obedience and advanced training to make her become a better dog. In an unexpected surprise, she taught me how to become disciplined, consistent and persistent.”

Jane Biehl heartily agreed.

More information about the service dog program can be found at www.circletails.org or by contacting Biehl at jane.m.biehl@gmail.com.

Published: September 29, 2010
New Article ID: 2010709299965