Marcia Pardi can’t count how many times she’s parked her green Mercedes and gotten out with her service dog, Cappuccino, and people ask her how long she’s been blind.
As a person affected by multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, Pardi was symptom-free for 12 years, but her gait problems — difficulty in walking, balance and coordination — returned after she was injured in a car accident in 2006.
“I noticed a blurb in the MS newsletter about service dogs assisting people with MS,” Pardi said. “I already had Cappuccino as a pet, and Florida Guide Dogs was the only place that takes existing dogs and puts them through training.”
After two years of training at the organization’s location in Palmetto and with the donation of a walking harness by an MS Society staff member, Cappuccino now helps Pardi climb stairs and curbs, fetch items that she drops and assists her with daily activities. She has even become somewhat of a local celebrity around town.
“Anywhere I go, people know her name,” Pardi said. “But my own doctor has to ask me my name! As soon as I put on her working vest, her whole demeanor changes. It’s like I’ve put a badge on her and she knows she’s working.”
Although Cappuccino has been more than willing to help with her owner’s physical needs, she has also provided unconditional love and an amazing emotional connection.
“She’s my best friend,” Pardi said. “I don’t know what I would do without her. She sleeps with me, comes to the bathroom with me and is beside me all the time. I’ve gotten to know more people because of the social side of having a dog. If I go anywhere without her, people think something is wrong.”
Every hour in the United States, someone is diagnosed with MS, which affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.1 million worldwide. Although the symptoms vary for everyone living with multiple sclerosis, some people may wake up unable to walk. Others will experience numbness, tingling and muscle spasms.
On March 20, Pardi will lace up her shoes and take one step at a time in Sarasota’s MS Walk with her dearest friends — her husband, Scott, Cappuccino, of course, and her friend, Colt Burch. So far, she has raised $225 toward her goal of $500. Donations can be made online at http://walkflc.nationalmssociety.org or by mailing a check to the National MS Society Mid Florida Chapter.
“While life is, in reality, unpredictable for each of us, I remind myself to appreciate all of my blessings,” Pardi said.
If You Go
What: Walk MS Sarasota; short route of two miles or long route of two-and-a-half miles
Where: J.D. Hamel Park
When: 8 a.m. check-in, 9 a.m. start time to noon Saturday, March 20
Parking: Available at Marina Jack, along Main Street and surrounding areas
Information: Call 407-478-8882 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Loren Mayo at email@example.com.