Joan Jacura is used to having to explain her service animals.
“I’ve gotten some strange reactions here in Princeton. People think small dogs can’t be service dogs.”
Jacura, who recently moved to the area from Surrey, relies on two tiny canines to get through the day.
Zorra is a Pomeranian-Chihuahua cross and Taquito – a medical therapy dog in-training – is a Chihuahua mix.
Jacura suffers from diabetes, agoraphobia, anxiety and depression.
The dogs are trained to reassure her, and Zorra has the unique ability to detect changes in her blood sugar levels.
When her blood sugar spikes “the dog will lick her nose profusely,” said Jacura’s attendant Ray Wheeler.
In an interview with The Spotlight Jacura recounted how acquiring a medical-therapy dog changed her life.
“It was like night and day,” she said.
Previously unable to leave her home and interact with others, the dog allays her fears.
Describing agoraphobia – a condition where the sufferer unnaturally perceives various environments and situations as unsafe – she compared it to living constantly with one’s worst nightmare.
“Imagine the thing you are most afraid of, and being that way all the time. It’s like if you are afraid of spiders, it like having spiders crawling over you all the time.”
Zorra and Taquito “lessen the fear,” she said.
The use of medical therapy dogs was recommended by Jacura’s doctor. She carries a worn letter from the physician that she often has to produce when the animals accompany her into a public place like a restaurant.
“When we go into a restaurant we show it first thing and most people are really understanding.”
She said one local restaurant manager refused to let the dogs inside, after receiving complaints from other patrons.
Zorra and Taquito both wear service vests and remain close to their client, at all times, held above her waist.
Like other service dogs they should not be petted by strangers, she said.
Unlike some other service animals and because of their size, the dogs are not certified.
Zorra was trained in the role by a previous owner, and Taquito is learning the ropes. The latter is a rescue dog, named because he was taken into care outside of a taco shop in Washington State.
“He’s come a long way. He has a long way to go but he has really come a long way.”