Tulsa woman calls her therapy dog a hero

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-15 19:59:55-05

Taking Dakota for a walk outside is part of Sally Akins' new life. Her dog though isn't a pet. Dakota is a therapy dog, which is helping Akins find stability.

"I'm in the early stages of dementia, early stages of Parkinson's, I have three different major nerve disorders," Akins said. 

With a reserved spot on the couch in his new apartment, Dakota is comfortable at home. He is also providing comfort to a woman who recently came uncomfortably close to death.

"I have five children, 17 grand babies. Believe me, I have a lot to stick around for," she said.

On November 15, 2015 Akins visited the Tulsa SPCA and picked out Dakota. The two bonded instantly and Dakota began receiving training to be a therapy dog. 

Weeks later on Thanksgiving, she said Dakota gave her something to be thankful for.

She woke up, as her heart began to go into atrial fibrillation. As it beat irregularly, Akins said she couldn't physically get out of bed. With her heart failing her, Akins said Dakota stayed by her side for four and a half days. 

"He would just lay next to me," she said. "He would lick my hand, he would like my face, he would whine, like what is wrong with me."

Dakota became Akin's reason to live. She said she eventually regained just enough strength to get to the hospital. Now she said she is alive and her health is improving, thanks to Dakota. 

"He did save my life," she said. He saved my life to the point where I'm no longer taking blood pressure medication."

Doctor Mary Isaacson with OU-Tulsa's College of Allied Health is not surprised to hear Akins' story of Dakota staying by her side and helping her health improve. 

"I don't think it is rare at all," she said. "That relationship between dogs and people, we all just know it is amazing and people really connect with their dogs."

Isaacson teaches at OU-Tulsa with the help of Niko. The retriever is trained as a service dog and is a large part of the university's Professor Paws Project. 

The project was formed Isaacson said due to a lack of education about the health benefits of dogs such as Dakota and Niko. 

"We started the Professor Paws Project as a way to close that gap and to educate our students," Isaacson said. "As well as we go into the community to educate about the differences."

Professor Paws educates 300 students annually in the College of Allied Health, so they can later recommend a service or therapy dog to their patients. 

Isaacson said the program focuses on service dogs, but said many people also benefit from therapy or emotional support dogs. People often end up adopting on of the animals after first receiving a recommendation from a therapist or medical doctor. 

Akins said she found Dakota after her therapist recommended a therapy dog. Now the energetic four legged family member is helping her find happiness. 

"I can actually have a good life, a decent life where I don't have to go the hospitals all the time," Akins said. "I don't have to go to the doctors all the time."