By Sabina Mollot
For Stuyvesant Town resident Cheryl Krist, having a dog has literally been a lifesaver. She got her disability dog, Bocci, eight years ago, in response to a neurological condition that causes her to get tremors. The shaking, which can happen any time, make her unsteady on her feet so she walks with the aid of a cane.
While Krist said the 40-pound brittany pooch has protected her more than once, one major incident was when he saved her from being hit by a car. This was a year and a half ago on a rural road in Pennsylvania, where Krist owns a home.
She had been walking along a road where there were a lot of ferns on one side, and because of all the plants she didn’t notice that there was also a wild turkey inside. As she walked past, the turkey, apparently startled, flew up towards Krist.
“The turkey came up in my face and I fell backwards and hit my head on the road,” she said.
That’s when Krist heard a car coming, but she wasn’t able to get back up. Making matters worse, she had landed in a dip in the road. “So the car would not have seen me until he was on top of me.” This is when Bocci stood up on his hind legs, making himself around three and half feet tall. The driver then swerved safely around him and his owner.
Bocci, meanwhile, was also saved by his owner. She had gotten him through an ASPCA in Dutchess County, on Thanksgiving, as the organization was putting dogs that would make good service animals up for adoption. Bocci had been bred in a hunting kennel. However, when his owners discovered he was gun-shy, Bocci was sold to a puppy mill, where he spent the first three years of his life inside a crate.
“He weighed 15 pounds less than he does now and he was yellow because he was peed on,” said Krist. “So he has no reason to like people but he does. He’s got an absolute heart of gold. Children can put their hands down his throat and he wouldn’t close his mouth. With old people, he’ll be as gentle as he needs to be.”
The dog’s good nature hasn’t always been noticed by others, though. Krist said over the years many local stores have refused to let her disability dog inside. Even when she had to visit the emergency room, recently, Bocci was also denied entry. “I was not happy,” said Krist, who recently won a case against a local store that refused to let Bocci in.
Other times Bocci has helped protect her include whenever she has fallen.
“He stands still and braces himself so I can stand up. He keeps me moving forward and he keeps me out of the sun if he can.” The sun, she noted, makes her condition worse.
Two years ago, when Krist fell on the stairs in the subway, Bocci made sure anyone else on the stairway gave her a wide berth by nudging them away.
However, when emergency medical technicians appeared, “He let them right through,” said Krist. “I don’t know how he knew the difference.”
The fall happened after she had hurt her leg. “I thought I had broken my leg, but I didn’t. I just whacked it really good,” Krist said.
Another time, Bocci served as her protector when he succeeded in scaring off a man who was about to attack Krist at church.
The man had seen Krist walk in with Bocci and yelled, “She’s bringing livestock into my church,” Krist recalled. After the man got up and moved towards them, Krist’s husband, Joseph, grabbed the man by the shirt collar but he still appeared as though he wanted to take a swing at Krist. That is, until Bocci got involved.
“Bocci showed his teeth. Then the guy changed his mind.”
Krist later learned the man had attacked someone else a week earlier and had the cops called on him by the pastor, who was in the process of calling 911 again when the drama unfolded. “He was off his meds.”
Naturally, Krist recommends Brittanys as service dogs, because of their build – not too big but all muscle and known as being hunting dogs.
Additionally, she said, “They’re smart dogs.” She doesn’t recommend them as regular pets though, at least not for people who have to work long hours, or be away from home a lot, as the breed has a tendency to get restless.
“Chewy toys won’t cut it. They need something to do,” Krist said.
As for her dog’s unusual name, that was the name he came with when adopted, a misspelled version of the Italian word baci, which means kisses.
Bocci is now 11, and Krist admitted, “I’m not looking forward to him getting older. The connection between a person and a service dog becomes so strong it’s unbelievable. They’re beyond a medical device. They make you feel so safe.”