Safety is what drove Kim to inquire about service dogs. “That was my biggest motivator,” she say. “I was looking for safety.”
With a connective tissue disorder since about age 30, Kim has had nine spinal column fusions and is preparing to have both her knees replaced. Her limited and painful movement causes balance and mobility issues on a regular basis. “I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have done,” she admits, explaining how she took risks and experienced some major falls as a result.
Kim and her family knew she needed help. Another assistance dog organization recommended Can Do Canines to Kim when they were unable to meet her needs, and Kim began the process of being matched with a Mobility Assist Dog. She remembers thinking at her first training class how amazing the demonstration dogs were. Soon afterward, Kim was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of those same dogs would be the one she would welcome into her life, a black Labrador Retriever named Axl. “That just added to it,” Kim says, “that I had already seen him work and already knew what you were doing.”
Trust Factors In
Doing those same things herself with Axl had Kim second guessing at first. She explains, “I’ve had regular dogs, but this was so different,” Speaking of their initial training times, Kim wondered, “Was I doing it right? Was I frustrating him?” But Axl was there to reassure her, and in no time, they began to trust each other. Kim realizes now that Axl was the teacher as much as she was. “It was me having to learn to step back,” she acknowledges, knowing that she couldn’t do his job for him. “Let him think it through. Let him do his job. Let him work,” she kept reminding herself.
Others needed reminding too, like when Kim fell in their home’s exercise room and her daughter rushed to try to assist. Kim gently stopped her and instead prompted Axl to brace for her as she got back onto her feet. Always at her side, Axl is ready to help in a variety of important ways. He picks up keys, towels, envelopes and other items off the floor. He can bring a phone or another person to her if Kim is in an emergency situation. Opening and closing drawers is no problem for him, and doing the same for doors is a relief for Kim, who says, “Getting a door closed with a walker is not the easiest thing to do.”
Whether it’s close to their Wausau, WI, home or out in the community, Axl helps Kim leave her fears behind. She says, “I’m much more motivated to get up and get him out for a walk. My day is more structured now.” Shopping and other errands are possible for Kim again. “I loved the first time we went to the store by ourselves. He was so tuned into what I was doing.” It’s not clear if it’s this obvious commitment of Axl’s or simply his handsome face and warm personality, but Kim boasts, “Well, he’s definitely a hit at Walmart!”
A Versatile Helper
With Kim’s restricted neck motion, Axl’s extra set of eyes can be an added bonus for crossing streets. And there is no denying that Axl has also become an exceptional hugger. “I love him to death,” says Kim, who relishes Axl’s good-night snuggles. Complementing Axl’s tender side is a playful side, as Kim offers, “He’s the goofiest dog I’ve ever had the pleasure to have.” He loves their boat rides together and according to Kim, “He’s got a thing for boxes.”
Fortunately, Kim’s husband, Tim, is not the jealous type. He shares, “I think it was a huge surprise how well he fit in and what he’s done for our life, as far as motivation and bringing happiness back to Kim. You’ve done an awesome job of setting us up with a new family member.” And that’s saying something from the guy who gave up his side of the bed for this new family member!
Clearly, Axl has made quite an impression on Kim and her loved ones. Wanting to address everyone who has played a part in raising him, Kim says, “I’m grateful for all the hard work you people have put into making this dog. I would love to have you see what he’s become.” She states that is was a long process, but thinks “it needs to be long for a reason. There’s a ton of work [that goes into making] sure it’s the right fit.” And for Kim, “It’s been well worth the wait.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Franny Meyer-Briggs
Puppy Raiser: Stanley Correctional Institution
Special Thanks: The Wahl family, Anita Boucher & Jeff Bangsberg
You: Thank you for your donations!