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Face Time with Steve Karmgard

Steve Karmgard sits with his service dog, Pluto.
Steve Karmgard sits with his service dog, Pluto.

Steve Karmgard of Genoa has a tool that makes his life easier.

That tool is a black Labrador retriever named Pluto. Karmgard took some time on a recent cold Wednesday to talk with reporter Debbie Behrends about his canine companion.

Behrends: What is the nature of your disability?

Karmgard: I had a diving accident in July of 1992. I am a quadriplegic with a C5-6-7 spinal injury.

Behrends: Is Pluto your first service dog? And what does he do for you?

Karmgard: He is my first service dog. He does several things. You find the longer you are disabled, things get harder to do.

He picks things up for me. When you arrived, did you notice the rope on the front door knob? He can grab that rope and pull the door closed a lot easier than I can going back and forth in my wheelchair.

I work full-time in Elk Grove Village and he stays under my desk all day. I tend to drop my pen a lot. He can pick it up for me, and I don’t have to constantly bug my co-workers. When we run across a door that’s handicapped-accessible, with an electric button, he can push the button to open the door.

There’s just so much he can do.

Behrends: What is the process to get a service dog through Canine Companions?

Karmgard: CCI (Canine Companions Inc.) has very high standards. I filled out an application and had to provide a lot of medical information. I had a phone interview, and then went to the closest center in Delaware, Ohio, for an all-day interview.

They evaluate the client to see what type of dog would be best for you and what needs you have.

After going through all of that, you’re placed on a waiting list. When you get the call that they have dogs available, you go back to the center for a two-week training session. I thought it would be a nice vacation. Boy, was I wrong.

Behrends: Is the dog already trained when you meet him?

Karmgard: Yes, the dog has been through two years of training before he gets to that point. He knows the commands. Clients work with two or three different dogs to find the best fit. The staff watches as you work with the dogs to see which one you work with the best. After working with two other dogs first, I knew within about 10 minutes that Pluto was the one.

Behrends: What did Pluto cost?

Karmgard: There is no cost to the client other than the care and feeding once they have a dog.

Behrends: How long is the working life of a service dog?

Karmgard: It really depends on the dog, his handler’s lifestyle, his health. There are a lot of variables.

Behrends: With several organizations providing service dogs, why did you decide to work with CCI?

Karmgard: We really felt they are a great organization. They’ve been around the longest, and they provide ongoing support. We visit with them every couple of years so we can evaluate Pluto’s health and service.

When he starts to slow down, we can start to think about retiring him, and I can get on the waiting list for a new dog if I decide I want another one. I think once you have a service dog, you don’t want to do without one.

I really believe in the organization, and I volunteer to talk about my experience and demonstrate with Pluto whenever I can. There is more information about the organization online at

• Who would you like to see featured in Face Time? Let us know at The feature runs each Monday.

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