Weather Forecast


Golden retriever helps Park Rapids woman diagnosed with MS

Denise Pederson, diagnosed with MS, gets a hug from her helper dog, Mac. The golden retriever helps Denise around the house. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Denise Pederson has a new best friend in Mac, her helper dog.

Denise, who has Multiple Sclerosis, was paired with Mac in October 2008 through Helping Paws, based out of Hopkins.

"He's just a joy. He's a good companion and able to help me out in so many ways," she said.

MS affects the central nervous system and interrupts the flow of information between the brain and body, often impeding people from moving.

Mac has helped her to get around in her wheelchair and with everyday activities.

"They know up to 82 different cues," she said. "Mostly he picks things up for me when I drop something. He opens doors, he shuts cupboards. If I fell down, he could steady me. He can pull off mittens."

Denise spent three weeks at class to learn how to work with Mac and how to use the cues. He is 3 years old.

He is trained with positive reinforcement. "When he does something right, I tell him he's a good boy and give him a treat" (a piece of dog food Denise keeps in a pocket on her lap).

In March, Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. When she was gone, Mac wondered where she was.

"I drop things all the time," she said. "He can pick up something as small as a penny."

Denise can't walk anymore but still enjoys going out once in a while. She and her husband, Randy, moved to the "north country" in 2006.

"We just love it up north," Denise said. "We came up to God's country, up north."

Now, Denise feeds the birds and deer and has a fun time with that. She has orioles coming into the yard for the first time this year.

She wanted to start a support group in this area.

"When I was first diagnosed back in 1990, I lived in Maple Grove and went to their support group," Denise said. "But it wasn't a good group, I just felt like it was a pity party. I know with the right intentions it could be a very, very good place to be."

She thought about starting up a support group in Park Rapids but knew she needed help. Susan Monsrud stepped up to help out.

"We've had two meetings now, it's just a small group but it's been very good. We can just talk to each other, compare notes. Some have been just diagnosed and others who have been affected more by it," Denise said.

"There's people out there," she said. "It's affecting so many different people."

The Park Rapids MS support group meets the third Wednesday each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the lower level meeting room at St. Joseph's Area Health Services. The next meeting is June 17.

The group will be a group of people with a common bond, who share experiences, successes, troubles, understanding and wisdom in a positive manner, Denise said.

The support group is confidential.

"Because we're a brand new group, we're getting used to each other, just starting to become friends," she said. "It's a way of making friends with people who have similar situations. We're not a pity party by any means."

It's for caregivers as well. Denise's husband, Randy, attends the support group as well.

"I'm in this wheelchair, but I've also got a lot of things going for me," she said. "We try to encourage that. We're just hoping we can get together and talk about similar things, our sad things but also our good things."

For more information, contact Denise at 763-350-6957.