Denise & Abbey

Denise Bogue-Skonieczki and her service dog Abbey shop at the Abbott Road Fred Meyer on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. BOB HALLINEN

"Abbey saved my life," Denise Bogue-Skonieczki says of the chocolate Lab that helps her cope with an array of mental and physical problems from bipolar disorder to shot knees. "If I didn't have her, I wouldn't be here."

They met through Alaska Assistance Dogs. Abbey was an 8-month-old service dog in training. Denise was largely a shut-in.

"Abbey ran straight to me. She picked me and she's never left. I can't stick with anything long because of this darn bipolar but I was able to stick with the training of my dog."

They passed their public-access test right around Denise's birthday last May.

"Abbey forces me out. I have to take her to play at the park. And if I have to go into town, I know I'm going to be safe. It's so wonderful to be able to feel safe."

Since Denise walks with a cane, Abbey hops up and pushes the handicap-door button for her. If Denise drops her inhaler, some coins or her keys, Abbey picks them up and puts them in her hand. If Denise falls, Abbey helps her get back on her feet.

"She doesn't just make my heart feel warm and fuzzy. She does, but that's not all she does."

Abbey, a natural-born diplomat, dilutes the stigma of mental illness.

"People tend to look at you like, 'Oh, you're one of those. What are you doing out in public? You should be locked up.' They see her, they forget that I have mental illness; they're more drawn to the dog. When Abbey came along, people tended to be more respectful, more understanding.

"She's such a blessing in my life."