Will and Jack

Patient recovery / service dog

Fast friends featured on Animal Planet show

By Emily Colbenson Ties

When dealing with a life-threatening illness, children are often put into an adult world with little understanding of what is happening around them. To find comfort in chaos, many turn to a favorite security blanket or treasured toy.


For one small survivor, Will Canan, his comfort came in an unlikely form — a miniature pinscher named Jack, a Facility Based Service Dog trained to work with patients at Mayo hospitals.

Now 10-years-old, Will has had his share of trying times in the Mayo facilities since being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004. In the last four years, he has had two recurrences and has undergone multiple surgeries, six weeks of daily radiation and chemotherapy.

Through the countless rounds of treatment, Jack has been by Will’s side. He has helped the young fighter by "assisting him in regaining balance and encouraging the use of Will’s weak arm from surgery," said Jack’s owner, Marcia Fritzmeier.

Elizabeth Canan, Will’s mother, agrees. "Will and Jack bonded immediately and Jack would hop right onto Will’s lap in the wheelchair," she said. "Will would then unknowingly use his left arm to stroke and pet Jack gently. When Will started to walk again, he would get to hold the leash and walk with Jack as part of his therapy while in rehab. Jack made therapy fun for Will and motivated him to learn to use his arm and leg again, which he has done completely."

Will is not the only one to benefit from Jack’s helping presence. Since he began his career in 2002 at St. Marys hospital, the little dog has worked with more than 800 patients — from 18 months to 92 years old — in areas such as Cardiac ICU, Rehabilitation and Neurology. In fact, Jack was accepted into the Minnesota Veterinary Association’s Hall of Fame in the Hero category for his work at Mayo.

"Jack provides comfort, encouragement, motivation and unconditional love to the patients and their families that he serves. He is able to bring the outside world into the hospital," Fritzmeier said.

Elizabeth Canan wholeheartedly agrees. "When Will was hospitalized for chemo treatments, Jack would stop by often to visit and his favorite thing to do was to hop on Will’s bed, nestle himself in under the covers and go to sleep. What a precious site that was and Will was very comforted by this," she said.

Though Jack is typically only with patients from the time they are referred by a Mayo physician to when they are dismissed, Will and Jack have a bond that goes beyond the hospital setting. "Jack has visited Will’s school and has been in attendance for his Christmas concert and Grandparents Day," Fritzmeier said. "Jack has been a part of every important milestone in Will’s life since his initial diagnosis in 2004."


These tried-and-true friends will take their friendship prime time when they appear on the Animal Planet production "DOGS 101" Saturday at 7 p.m. The show will also repeat the following day at 2 p.m. Jack and Will are appearing on the show because, according to Fritzmeier, "It is unusual for a miniature pinscher to do the type of work that Jack does."

Don’t miss Will and his special dog that he says, "Makes me feel safe," in their television debut.

Emily Colbenson Ties is a Rochester freelance writer.

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