Local man shares story of his service dog as National Service Dog Month begins

Bruce Dellinger rewards Cole with treats after following a command.
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- September is National Service Dog Month: a time when we recognize the talented and highly trained animals who serve those with disabilities.

WHSV's Holly Stouffer spoke with a Valley man to hear how having a service dog changed his life.

"I was injured when I was 14-years-old, I fell 25 feet from a barn hayloft, landed on the back of my head and broke my fifth and six vertebrae, injured my spinal cord and became paralyzed," said Bruce Dellinger.

Dellinger has been paralyzed for the majority of his life, but he has learned to embrace the cards he's been dealt.

And having his service dog, Cole, by his side only makes his life richer.

"People with disabilities always like to feel like they can be as independent as possible, he provides that," said Dellinger. "He's become my buddy, my friend, my companion and my right arm."

It takes just a few minutes with Bruce Dellinger to find out how much he appreciates Cole.

"To have a service dog I feel more comfortable, knowing that he's here and if I do have a problem he can assist me with it," said Dellinger.

They've been inseparable and unstoppable since he picked him up from the Service Dogs of Virginia in Charlottesville four years ago.

Cole is trained to assist Dellinger with problems he may run into throughout the day, like picking up his cell phone or set of keys if he drops them.

Dellinger is also a self-taught artist and creates works of art by holding a pencil between his teeth. Cole is trained to pick up these pencils when they fall and he can usually be found keeping his buddy company while he draws.

"It's made a real difference," said Dellinger, "He's here and I can rely on him to do the job that he's been trained to do."

But this bond goes deeper than the professional level, to a kind of love that only dogs can offer.

"He's opened up the world in a greater sense," said Dellinger. "To have that in your life, to know that you can have a friend that you can rely on that's going to stand by you unconditionally and be there when you need them, that's the best friend in the world that you can have."

They're called "man's best friend" for a reason.

"I couldn't function throughout the day without him," said Dellinger.

Some would even say Cole is an angel for all he does.