Assistance dog stands by Milford girl, 14

Dana Parrott, 14, of Milford, with Zinc, who was provided by Canine Companions for Independence.

Dana Parrott, 14, of Milford, with Zinc, who was provided by Canine Companions for Independence.

MILFORD >> Fourteen-year-old Dana Parrott has always been a high honors student, but after being diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy, Dana found challenges in the simple things: getting a drink out of the refrigerator or grabbing a tissue from a box.

Now Dana has found her solution to those everyday problems in the most lovable package: a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever/golden retriever named Zinc, who has caramel-colored fur and is trained to stay by her side.

“He does so much for me that I never thought possible,” said Dana, a freshman at Foran High School.

“He’s like a best friend who never leaves my side.”

Dana, who uses a wheelchair, was diagnosed in 2010 at age 9 with limb girdle muscular dystrophy, which over time causes weakness and atrophy in certain voluntary muscles, but does not affect the brain, intellect or senses.

It does not interfere with life span, unlike some other forms of muscular dystrophy.

Dana, who has three older brothers, hopes to become a doctor; she’s considering anesthesiology or pediatric oncology.

Her mother, Jane Parrott’s philosophy about her daughter’s disability is that Dana can “grab life and make the most of it.”

However, until Zinc came along, Dana could not stay alone or reach for a tissue without her mother’s help.

Zinc from Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit providing trained assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities for free.

During two weeks in New Jersey, Zinc was trained to respond to 40 advanced commands, and since getting him in November Dana has added about 10 more.

Zinc can turn light switches on and off, open and close the sliding glass doors, retrieve dropped objects such as a cellphone, remote or pen, pull a tissue out of a box and lift Dana’s hand if it slides off the wheelchair arm rest.

He will even hand a cashier money with his mouth. He can also open doors using a pull cord on the handles and carry items in his mouth.

Parrott, said Zinc also stands up in church when the music starts or when the minister asks anyone who is able to rise to do so.

“He does more than we expected,” Jane said, noting parishioners get a kick out of Zinc’s etiquette.

It used to be Parrott never left her daughter alone, even to drive to the store. If Dana had a cold, it was all up to Parrott to hand her tissues, but now Zinc can do it.

Zinc does not go to school with Dana, but at 2 p.m. when Jane leaves to pick up Dana, Zinc gets excited, wagging his tail and making happy noises.

When Dana comes through the door, Zinc is there with an enthusiastic greeting.

While Zinc is not specifically trained to protect Dana, he does. In the first months when her father went to give her a good-night kiss, Zinc nudged him away. Zinc even tucks himself into bed next to Dana.

“It’s been a blessing,” Jane said of Zinc helping Dana. “She’s so much more independent.”

In a few weeks, Dana will be facing back surgery, then rehab, and Zinc will sleep in the hospital with her, along with her mother, who is trained as the dog’s facilitator.

Zinc also gets the royal treatment: Dana brushes his teeth every day.

“He makes me feel at ease, he makes me feel happy,” Dana said.

Canine Companions for Independence provides trained assistance dogs to children, adults and veterans with disabilities, and ongoing follow-up services, for free.

For more information, visit or call 800-572-BARK.