Mobility Assist Dog Niles is putting on the miles. That’s because Niles was matched with David, who is known for his love of outdoor adventures.
It was one such adventure in July 2019 that changed the trajectory of David’s life. While on a biking expedition with friends, David had a near-fatal fall off a cliff above the Mississippi River. The accident caused a spinal cord injury, leaving David with no movement in his legs and limited use of his hands and fingers. He says that in addition to being able to weakly pinch items with one hand, “I can kind of hook things or scoop them up in my hand, but I don't have a whole lot of strength or dexterity.”
Learning to use his body differently and to use a wheelchair took time. “In all, I think it was about eight months from initial injury until I was released back into the world.”
As quickly as possible, he settled into an independent living apartment. Noticing a few Can Do Canines teams residing there, he was familiar with the organization. David had heard of Can Do Canines at rehab, “but everywhere I went, that was the assistance dog organization that just kept coming up,” he says.
Although David was eager for the extra assistance a dog could bring, he says, “I wanted to make sure I was ready and as independent as I could be. I needed to be in a place where I could take care of him if something happened. Like if he needed to get to the vet if he's ill, I could navigate that.”
Once confident in his own abilities, David applied and was soon paired with 3-year-old Niles. The yellow Lab was eager for this new adventure and the tasks he would showcase, such as retrieving items. David explains, “I drop things all the time.” Reaching down to get something can put a lot of strain on his body and take a toll on his patience. Noting typical scenarios, he says, “It'll take me three attempts, or I'll get it up in my lap, and then I drop something else. So it actually takes a lot of energy out of me just to pick things up off the floor.” With Niles handling the pickup duties, David shares, “I’ve realized now how much it’s benefitted me to have him.”
Niles is also a superior doorman. David says that pulling a door open while propelling forward in a wheelchair is hard to navigate. Niles is happy to be able to help David conserve energy and decrease fatigue. Beyond the medical aspect, though, David admits that with having Niles, “It’s beyond the training. I think just having his personality and his compassion around has really lifted my spirits. There’s more joy in my life. I didn't realize it would impact me this much.” Sometimes Niles will put his paws up on David’s lap and lean into him as if offering a hug. David shares, “It's brought me to tears a couple times. It's like, ‘Dude, I didn't even realize I needed this.’”
David continues, “Freedom is something that has really opened up with him being in my life.” David not only has a manual wheelchair but also a mountain trike—a lever-driven bike with suspension—for accessing outdoor trails. As David explains, “It takes me out there into the wilderness.” And Niles is right there with him, sometimes jogging alongside, with the use of a safety attachment to keep Niles away from the wheels. The two have traversed Afton State Park and neighborhood lakes. This spring, they will say “Aloha” to Maui, where they plan to do their share of hiking.
Some of their trips have dual purposes because David works for a hiking company, compiling content for social media and videos, for which Niles is often a star actor. David adds that even on their way to outings, Niles is helpful to have along. For instance, if David forgets to take his keys out of his adapted van and has already maneuvered himself out, he says, “It’s easier for me to just point and say “Get it,” and Niles will happily retrieve the keys.
David shakes his head when considering Niles’ journey to him. “I can only imagine the time, the passion, and the care that has gone into training and raising Niles to the magnificent dog he is. I just want to express my gratitude for everyone involved. It’s truly life-changing.”
And this is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long, wonderful adventure for this pair of explorers.
To learn more about adaptive hiking options like David uses, visit the Facebook Group: Mountain Trike Community USA or Mountain Trike USA on Instagram.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Raisers — Rebecca Kurup, Hanna and Andrew Temme
Special Thanks — Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca, Stanley Correctional Institution