Inside the therapy gym of Bancroft NeuroRehab Resnick Center in Mount Laurel, Kyle Derrick, 26, of North Wildwood, held two fingers to his head, thinking hard, trying to jog his memory — the same memory that became impaired two years ago when he crashed the car he was driving into a tree, after he fell into a diabetic coma.
Minutes earlier on this Tuesday morning, he spread out nine cones on the floor and hid dog treats under three of them. Now, Derrick, whose lime-green mohawk was visible from under a camouflaged baseball cap, had to remember where he’d put them.
It was a game of sorts he was playing with Seamus, a good-humored, tawny 7-year-old Labrador and golden retriever mix, a Canine Assisted Therapy dog who works with the medical team, helping to untangle the roadblocks that obstruct Derrick’s memory.
“I think he saw where I put them and is going to cheat,” said Derrick, swaying lightly. But Seamus, who’s trained in 40 commands, just waited patiently. After a few attempts, Derrick, who worked as a car mechanic before his accident, found the treats and fed them to an overjoyed Seamus.
As the morning progressed, Seamus worked further with Derrick. Seamus opened and closed a drawer when Derrick instructed. The two played tug of war to help with Derrick's equilibrium and balance. And later, after Derrick instructed him to fetch his lease, the pair went for a walk around the premises.
In the sunny and airy facility, it didn’t matter so much to those watching if Derrick mastered each task because something else shone brighter on the young man’s face: the big dog, whose encoded DNA is to please humans, made Derrick feel accomplished in whatever he was doing. “It is fun to be with him,” Derrick said with a smile.