Ashley is studying International Relations with a minor in Middle-Eastern Studies at Grand Valley State University. Her hope is to work with refugees and immigrants, teach English as a second language or work with students studying abroad at a university’s international center. She lives on campus so she can get the full college experience. And she has a PAWS Service Dog with her.
At 18 months old, Ashley was diagnosed with Dejerine-Sottas syndrome, a disease that causes loss of sensation and muscle mass and results in weakness of her limbs. Ashley always planned to go to college after high school, but didn’t feel anywhere close to being able to take care of herself while there. At home, just getting dressed took 45 minutes and drained her energy.
So she decided to apply for a PAWS Service Dog. “I told my parents this is something I need to do for myself,” Ashley said. “I was nervous about going to college and living on campus because my independence was limited. When I dropped something, I couldn’t pick it up because my spinal cord is fused. My parents supported me, understanding this was something I wanted to do.”
Ashley made it through a challenging freshman year while she waited for a PAWS Service Dog. Whenever she dropped a textbook, keys, phone or mittens, she had to ask someone to pick it up for her. “I really hated having to be in a situation where I had to interrupt someone to help me. It just gave them another reason to view people with disabilities as vulnerable and needy.” Ashley added, “There were many experiences like that. I was excited when I got MAUI because I knew I would never have to ask somebody to pick up my mittens again!”
Every day MAUI helps Ashley get in and out of bed, open a door or refrigerator, and pull off her clothing. Ashley says the biggest thing MAUI does is, “pick something up. She has saved me from that feeling of desperation. When I drop something now, it’s no big deal.”
Ashley’s advice to someone considering an Assistance Dog: “Don’t think you’re not disabled enough for a PAWS Dog. That was something blocking me. I can function without MAUI, I just don’t want to. It’s not you depending on a dog; it’s you and the dog working together as a team, even if it’s doing one big thing to make your life easier. It’s worth it.”
Before receiving her Hearing Dog PIPPEN, Jessica was an anxious wife and mother of two. Her hearing loss affected her life and the lives of those she loved most in more ways than she cared to admit. Always on alert, Jessica found it difficult to relax in her own home. Phone calls, doorbells and alarms would go unheard. Dinners would burn beyond recognition. The fear of a house fire led to sleepless nights.
Jessica was born with Pendred syndrome, a genetic condition causing severe hearing loss. Due to her exceptional lip-reading ability, Jessica was four before she was diagnosed. However, even with hearing aids, Jessica still had a profound hearing impairment.
In spite of her hearing loss, Jessica has lived life to the fullest. She earned a degree in Photography at Lansing Community College and traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, where she lived for several years with her husband. She now owns her own photography business. When you consider her accomplishments, it’s easy to overlook the daily challenges she faced as a result of her hearing loss.
Jessica decided to apply for a PAWS Hearing Dog. She admits she didn’t realize at first how comprehensive the program was. “It was amazing to see how much goes into training these dogs and how much is put into picking the perfect dog for each recipient,” said Jessica. “I honestly went home and cried with appreciation.”
Throughout the placement process, Jessica was impressed by how much work went into training not only the dogs, but training the clients. She spent time learning how to work, bond and continue training with her dog.
Jessica refers to Hearing Dog PIPPEN, a male Papillon, as “8½ pounds of pure gold.” With his ears, Jessica can answer the phone, wake up on time and cook delicious dinners. She is able to nap with her 2½-year-old at home without worrying that the house will burn down. “Just being able to relax is a huge deal,” she confessed.
With PIPPEN and the assistance of PAWS staff, Jessica has grown more confident. “It makes me feel powerful when I go out knowing the rights of those with Assistance Dogs are being advocated for and that if we ever run into trouble, PAWS is there for us,” Jessica remarked. “Nobody should ever be made to feel they can’t bring their Assistance Dog with them to a public place, so education is key.”
Jessica is “eternally grateful” to PAWS and everyone who helped bring PIPPEN into her life.
WILLIE and I met in November 1995, and we became a certified team in March 1996. He amazed me every day with his knowledge and abilities. Before WILLIE, my life was extremely limited by seizures. With WILLIE, I was able learn new things and go places. With each trip out, I gained confidence. I began traveling more. I found myself genuinely smiling. WILLIE was the answer to many prayers because not only did he assist me physically, he was my true companion. He inspired me to travel, pick up my artist’s tools and camera.
With WILLIE by my side, dropped items got picked up, I took my medication on time and I got exercise and rest to reduce my seizures. When I did have a seizure, WILLIE provided life-saving responses. Eventually, after we worked together for many months, WILLIE learned and began alerting me to imminent seizures*. I remember one time I was taking pictures on a dock in the middle of a lake while WILLIE was on shore. He sensed a seizure coming and let someone know, which gave me time to get safely back to land before it hit. I had a grand mal seizure and could have fallen off the dock and drowned, but WILLIE saved my life.
After three years together, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disease. WILLIE adapted once again by learning new tasks that helped me daily. I don’t know how PAWS did it, but they found the perfect Assistance Dog for me. Through our years, the most meaningful times were those spent living daily life together – WILLIE helping me and me helping WILLIE – both growing to our fullest potential.
A sincere thank you to all who prepared WILLIE for the invaluable assistance he gave me and thank you WILLIE for being you. Life will never be the same.
*PAWS Seizure Response Dogs are not trained to predict seizure activity. With time, some dogs may develop the ability to alert their client to an oncoming seizure. However, this behavior is not guaranteed to develop, nor to be consistent if it does develop.
Daniel and Dorene Taylor have two young boys – Elliot, who’s seven, and Owen, who’s nearly six. Parents, especially those with little ones, know that a sleepless night now and then is “normal.” But the Taylors’ son Elliot has autism and that makes for a very different “normal.”
Daniel explained, “Bedtime in our house was a constant struggle. We would often have to hold Elliot to help his body shut down at night. He’d wake up at the slightest noise and then Dorene or I would have to go lay down with him so he’d go back to sleep.”
The frequent restless nights easily fed into difficult mornings getting Elliot up and regular tantrums from him during the day.
Both Daniel and Dorene have worked in the Special Education field, so they were more prepared than many to accommodate Elliot’s needs. Even then, stress was inevitable. It was a chance encounter with a stranger a few months after Elliot’s diagnosis that spurred Daniel to investigate Service Dogs for Children with Autism (SDA).
His search quickly led him to PAWS. The family applied and was accepted into our SDA pilot program and they recently welcomed home LEWIS, a mixed Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever.
Almost immediately, Daniel shared, life was different. “It seems ironic to say a two-year-old Lab is bringing calm to a home, but he truly is. The relationship that’s forming between Elliot and LEWIS is remarkable to see. Elliot willingly goes to bed now with LEWIS, who models for Elliot how to relax. LEWIS knows that at the end of the day when it is dark outside and playtime and work time is done, we should be laying down to rest. LEWIS sleeps in bed right next to Elliot and now he pets LEWIS and soothes himself back to sleep when he wakes in the middle of the night. Because of LEWIS, Dorene and I are sleeping with a peace that’s eluded us for years.”
In the morning, Daniel typically takes LEWIS outside, plays with him and practices commands. The tasks may be simple, but their effect has been profound: “I’m finding that when LEWIS and I get that time together in the morning, I am a better person to my wife and sons,” Daniel said.
“In my work,” he continued, “I’ve often seen families split up from the unimaginable stress of raising kids with special needs. I know Elliot is benefiting from having LEWIS in a whole host of ways. Believe me when I say that if a dog can strengthen a family, help a husband love his wife and both of them to love their children well, then that dog has done the most important work there is. To everyone at PAWS who never gets thanked enough, here is another believer in the work you do.”
During our twelve years together, my Assistance Dog WILLIE became a part of me. I often said we were joined at the hip since that’s how it felt to have his dependable presence with me. His help allowed me to live independently. In taking care of him, I took better care of myself.
Without WILLIE, I thought life would be more tear-filled, but strangely it wasn’t. His spirit stayed with me. I never felt his absence, just the physical effects of life without him there. But, as days passed without him, I started losing the life WILLIE and I had built up. If too much time went by without help, I was concerned I might need to move in with family.
A few months later I met WILLIE’s successor, MITCHELL. While riding in the car to PAWS Headquarters, I experienced the same feelings I had twelve years before when I met WILLIE for the first time. It was a mix of nervousness, excitement, nausea and wanting to jump out of my skin. MITCHELL’s exuberance put a smile on my face and in my heart. His eyes had the same intense, bright look that WILLIE’s always had – I took that as a good sign. Each minute with MITCHELL brought me closer to feeling that life could return to normal.
When MITCHELL was ready to come home with me, my brain felt scrambled with so many thoughts flying through it – happiness, panic and a bit of sadness for missing WILLIE. I hadn’t heard the announcement for PAWS staff who wished to say goodbye to MITCHELL to come to the front lobby, so it was quite a surprise when we walked into the lobby and saw so many familiar faces waiting. The thought of so many people playing a role in bringing MITCHELL to me really made the tears flow. My days are definitely not as quiet as they were during the six months before MITCHELL arrived. Each day, a little more confidence creeps back into my head and I feel my independence and strength returning as MITCHELL wiggles and steals his way into my heart.
Now I’m looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead of us. My deepest thanks to PAWS for once again giving me the promise of better days ahead.
Dianna always had dogs growing up, but her husband Dave didn’t have the same experience. Early in their relationship he told her, “I don’t know if I could ever live with a dog.” Ironically, they were on a walk with Dianna’s German Shepherd when he broke that news, but he quickly changed his mind once Dianna made it clear that she intended to always have dogs in her home.
Who would have guessed that one day, when they were married with three young children and a family dog already, he would be the one to suggest they become a foster family for PAWS Dogs? After seeing a presentation at work, he came home and said, “Honey, this could be kind of fun. They need families to raise puppies. I think we should do it!”
Thirteen Foster Puppies later, they’re still at it. In fact, it’s become a family project for them. Sometimes Dianna wondered if she was doing the right thing, particularly after a conversation with a stranger while shopping. A woman approached Dianna and asked about her dog. Dianna explained she was training it to be a future Assistance Dog; the woman seemed impressed until she learned the dog would be turned in at the end of the year. Suddenly indignant, she asked, “You actually let your children fall in love with this puppy only to give it away?” Dianna replied, “It’s not like that at all. I’m teaching my children the gift of love. If you can love something so much and then give it away to someone you don’t even know because it’s for a good cause, then you’ve learned something really important.”
Years later, she and the kids were driving away from PAWS Headquarters after returning their most recent Foster Puppy for Assistance Dog training. “We were bawling,” she said. “We always do. It’s always very difficult because you really do fall in love with them. My daughter said, ‘This is so hard. I hate this.’”
Dianna responded, “This part is always the most difficult, but you know, there is a way to avoid the pain. We could stop raising Foster Puppies.” Her daughter’s mood changed instantly. “What? No way, we can’t stop! This is our thing. This is what we do and we are good at this!”
Dianna reflected on the memory. “That's when I realized this is really a family thing. This isn't just me anymore. We decided to do this as a family.”
Al and Elou were both single and in their forties when their mothers introduced them. The quiet and composed Elou immediately caught Al’s eye. “She was a nice, responsible lady,” Al recalled with a soft smile. So it was no surprise when the two of them married.
The new couple shared the next 23 years of their lives together. They took care of their parents and each other. That care never faltered, even as Al nursed Elou through pancreatic cancer until she lost the battle in May 2009.
Today, Al admits he isn’t sure when his wife began donating to Paws With A Cause, but he jokes that Elou was “giving behind my back for years.” He only learned of her commitment when she asked for any memorial donations after her passing to be split between PAWS and Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Even though Elou’s gone, Al continues giving to PAWS. He explains that it’s important to him to do because it was important to his wife. He added, “I took care of her in life and I want to be sure to take care of her in afterlife too.”
If you wander the halls of PAWS Headquarters, you’ll see evidence of Al’s caring nature in the form of plaques recognizing donations he made in Elou’s memory. To continue honoring her legacy, Al named PAWS as a beneficiary of his estate. He explains that from his perspective, the planned gift just makes sense – it fulfills his duty to Elou and ensures a lasting legacy. It also satisfies his desire to take care of others, something that has characterized Al’s life and a challenge he hopes others will carry on.
He says, “I just hope the funds will help the staff at PAWS. You have some wonderful people doing good work. I want to help make sure it lasts.” PAWS is tremendously grateful to Al and Elou for their generosity. It will surely have an impact here for years to come.