Paws for Parkinson’s
by Sid Shapira
01:00 AM, Friday, April 13
Catherine Rodriguez with Honey Bear
Catherine Rodriguez with Honey Bear
For nearly four years, Honey Bear has been the constant companion of San Diego’s Catherine Rodriguez. They’re never far apart -- they walk together, relax at home together, accompany each other on outings, and even travel by plane together.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1999, Rodriguez wasn’t getting enough exercise, something that concerned her neurologist, Dr. Anchi Wang. Regular exercise is extremely beneficial for Parkinson’s patients and Dr. Wang recommended to Rodriguez that a dog might fit the bill.

Enter Honey Bear in June 2008. At the time, Honey Bear, a Great Pyrenees and German shepherd mix, was just two years old. But, she was a trained service dog.

“I’ve always been a dog lover,” said Rodriguez, Ed.D., a retired educator who taught in area schools for more than 25 years. “From the very first time I walked with Honey Bear, I knew it was going to work. She’s the right size and she’s just perfect. It made sense for me.”

A past president of the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego (PASD), Rodriguez walks about an hour a day with Honey Bear. In addition, the two regularly attend meetings and appointments. Honey Bear ably assists Rodriguez with presentations to patient groups, state and local government officials, as well as local service groups.

Under Rodriguez’s direction, the PASD has developed the Paws for Parkinson’s™ program designed to pair service dogs with Parkinson’s patients. If a person is interested in the program, they can call the PASD and learn about trainers in the area who train service dogs for Parkinson’s patients.

Prior to adopting Honey Bear, Rodriguez had experienced noticeable walking issues. Specifically, she shuffled when she walked.

“Honey Bear sets my gait, so I don’t shuffle any more,” said Rodriguez. “Her step and mine are in perfect harmony. My walking has improved dramatically and I can walk much further because of Honey Bear.”

Research has shown that people with Parkinson’s can benefit greatly from dog ownership. In addition to offering a mandatory opportunity for exercise several times a day, the companionship can also alleviate depression, a condition that is common in Parkinson’s patients. Moreover, by assisting with day-to-day tasks and helping protect against falls and resulting injuries, service dogs can help Parkinson’s sufferers maintain their independence and stay active.

The Paws for Parkinson’s™ program will be on display as part of the Pet Festival at the annual Parkinson’s Step By Step 5K Walk/Fun Run on Saturday, April 21 at NTC Park at Liberty Station in Point Loma. It’s a great event for the entire family, including dogs.

The event supports a wonderful cause by raising funds for research and local programs while offering attendees the opportunity to discover the latest news on caregiving, support, and the benefits of dog ownership.

Form a team, join a team, walk or run. Leashed dogs are welcome and all registered dogs receive a dog t-shirt! You can even join Honey Bear’s team!

To register for the Step By Step Walk/Fun Run and to learn more about the Paws for Parkinson’s™ program, please visit: or call the PASD office at 858-273-6763.

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