Meet ELFA!
Born: 14 June 2014
Breed: Labrador retriever
Color: yellow
Elfa spent the first part of her a life with a foster family in Latvia.

Her foster family’s story

Her foster sister Emilīja recalls that Elfa entered their family looking like a small ball. The puppy was so small that she could crawl under the tummy of dachshund Dora. When Elfa left her foster family, it was the other way around, Dora could crawl under Elfa’s tummy! Dog trainer Zaiga saw all the good qualities in Elfa that a good assistance dog needs and started training her for this task. Today, Elfa lives together with Baiba, an energetic young woman in a wheelchair and is the first registered assistance dog in Latvia.

Elfa in the autumn of 2018

Elfa in the autumn of 2018

Baiba’s story about Elfa

Elfa – my dog, friend and ally, assistant and teacher

Today, I cannot imagine my daily life without her. She is my friend and ally. She is my assistant. And she is also my teacher. She is my dog.

We started living together nearly two years ago. About seven years ago, I applied for a service dog for the first time, when I saw some information about the Service dog association TEODORS on the homepage of the Apeirons association for invalids and their friends. At the time, I decided it would too hard for me, because I was traveling a lot, because of my job responsibilities at the time. About two years later, I received another reply to my e-mail from dog trainer Zaiga. She asked if I still wanted an assistance dog. And once again I asked her countless questions about caring for a service dog. Zaiga’s response was very smart. Instead of writing me an e-mail with all the answers, she visited me together with a trainee guide dog Dīva. I’ve always liked dogs. And, upon seeing Dīva, I decided that I would apply, that I needed and wanted an assistant dog.

During the training process, Elfiņa and I became friends immediately. I find it surprising that a dog and a human being can fall in love with another to such an extent. It was a truly delightful day, when Elfiņa and I could start living together. But this also meant looking after her and going for regular walks. I’d never done this on my own before. I was greatly helped by Zaiga’s presence the first few times, which reduced my anxiety. Of course, I had to change the rhythm of my life, which was not easy during the first few weeks, because I had to reckon with her and not just myself. But Elfa’s presence is worth these changes. This one Labrador girl has given me so much!

Elfa – my friend and ally

She really loves me. I can tell this by her behavior, the way she presses up to me, her smile, peace and playfulness. It’s not without reason that it’s said that “a dog is man’s best friend”. Since we’re together 24/7, she’s seen me happy, tired, sad and even so deflated that all I’ve wanted to do is to cry. And judging by her behavior, I can see that I’m still good enough for her despite this. She has an interesting way of taking my mind off sadness. When she sees that I’m sad or crying, she immediately wants to play and give me some love (by jumping onto my legs, looking into my eyes, wagging her tail and licking my face). And how can I be sad when Elfiņa has reminded me of her and her unconditional love?

Like a true friend, she doesn’t let me work too hard. When (in her opinion) I’m working too long at the computer, she comes up to me and demands attention (and as I write this sentence, I can hear someone approaching)

She is also a true ally – always at my side even when she’s got some free time and is not on her lead. She always makes sure that she’s no more than 200 – 300 m away from me. Of course, we also have our disputes and, as I term them, our battles for power. For example, when Elfiņa, being a Labrador, wants to eat some sort of rubbish, I don’t let her do it, and then she tests me to find out whether I really won’t allow her to do so. And as a true ally, I take her with me everywhere I go – to university, the cinema, the opera, theater, beauty parlor, on the plane (yes, we’ve been to Italy, Switzerland and Norway together), the shops, church, restaurant, camp and other public places. By now, there are a lot of places where we go, which have got used to me being accompanied by my assistance dog. At first, however, there were occasions when I had to explain that service dogs can accompany their master everywhere, except for an operating theater and restaurant kitchen. For example, I remember one occasion when we went to a restaurant and the waiter asked me if I could leave her outside, to which I replied that I couldn’t, and explained everything in accordance with legislation. I must say that, in relation to Elfiņa I’ve developed a protective instinct, and if anyone treats here badly, then I’m ready to defend with everything I’ve got. Once we even went to the police, because a woman’s dogs regularly attacked Elfa and barked at her, because they were not kept on a lead. But you cannot abuse a service dog like this, because it undermines their training. Since she’s my friend and ally, I believe that I have to look after her properly, and this includes defending her against negative influences.

Elfa – my assistant

Elfa is my friend first and my assistant second. As I often say, “She’s not my slave.” And this is exactly what I think, because she helps me and this makes her happy, because we love one another so much. From day to day, she helps me the most by bringing me things and picking them up. Before Elfiņa entered my life, I had to do this myself, which would occasionally end in my falling out of my wheelchair, because I had to reach down very low to pick up things. I must admit that since I live along and cannot back into my wheelchair alone; if I fall out of it, it’s awkward. And Elfa also helps me to get out of bed in the morning (one of her favorite activities is helping me to remove my clothes – my jacket, coat, gloves, trousers, tights and socks). She can also help me to switch the light on or offer and to open the door, as well as help me to drive my manual wheelchair. In regard to our process of removing my socks, I remember one funny incident. When we visited the rehabilitation center for the first time, during my first activity, the physiotherapist told me I had holes in my socks. When I went to the changing room and checked, it turned out that all my socks have little holes in them. I realized that this was because we were still training pulling them off and Elfucis often bit through the socks, leaving tiny holes. Thus, our trainer had to bring me some new socks.

Baiba and Elfa, photo: Timurs Subhankulovs, LA 10.3.2017

Baiba and Elfa, photo: Timurs Subhankulovs, LA 10.3.2017

Elfa – my teacher

How can Elfa be a teacher? In my case, that’s exactly what she is. With her entrance into my life, I had to learn to accept help. Until then, I’d learned to do everything for myself and was proud of the fact. For a long time, I’d lived with the lie that my level of independence determined my value. This was the reason why at first it was hard for me to accept help from Elfa. But seeing the joy she gets from help, I could not and cannot deny her this. And so I’ve become healthier and a lot less tired, because I no longer have to stubbornly do everything myself. In truth, in this regard, Elfa is a real gift from God, because having learned to accept her help, it’s much easier to accept it from my friends and other people, and this has improved a lot of my relationships.


Another side to Elfa – a fun run through the forest in the autumn of 2018

What I’ve realized is that the nearly two years that I’ve spent with Elfa have been among the very best in my life, and I’m incredibly grateful to have her at my side, because I’ve received so much and have the chance to take care of someone on a daily basis. This is the one thing that Elfa has taught me – to also look after her and to take her needs into account every day. For example, when we go somewhere – I ask myself whether she’s eaten, gone for a walk, or whether she’s healthy and not too tired. I must admit that I learned a lot about taking care of her during the winter of 2017/2018, when Elfiņa was poorly because of the salt and chemical sprinkled onto road surfaces. Given that we do a lot of walking along Riga’s roads and I had not yet learned to wash her feet properly after our walks together, and because she loves snow so much; she rolls around in it and sometimes eats it, she ended up licking the mixture and being sick a lot. I learned to clean up after her and just how much she matters to me. Thus we care for one another. And now – if I move during the night and she thinks it’s suspicious, she comes to check on me to make sure that everything’s fine. And to meet these two brown eyes at night, which are just looking for the chance to help in some way is so calming in any situation, but particularly so at those times, when I feel lonely. Therefore, I’d say that our relationship is one of mutual giving and taking, and that it is 100% worth it.

Baiba and Elfa on a raft in the summer of 2017

Baiba and Elfa on a raft in the summer of 2017

And I could go on writing and writing about her, but I have to stop somewhere. After all, Elfa is already snoring. Yeah, this really sums her up – the sweet sound of her snoring. She even does this when I give lectures at university, do a presentation during my graduate studies and in other places, because she makes the most of every free moment– to rest and relax.

This photo definitely best characterizes my life together with Elfiņa – we enjoy experiencing both quiet moments and adventures together.

Baiba Baikovska, spring 2019

You can read more about Elfa and Baiba here: