“I used to fall 2 or 3 times a week,” says Karen, referring to the effects of having her leg amputated below the right knee in 2020.
In late 2013, a joint in Karen’s foot collapsed, prompting a series of reconstruction surgeries—several of which were unsuccessful. She then developed type 2 complex regional pain syndrome, a neurological condition associated with intense or prolonged pain. By the time the amputation was necessary, mobility was a real challenge. “I had not walked in six years, Karen explains. “It was like having to learn how to walk again, and now I'm having an amputation. So I'm having to maneuver and learn all those skills to get me to walking again.”
Thus, all the falling. Not to mention the frustration. Karen recalls, “I actually had become a shut-in. I stopped doing anything, going anywhere. I was giving up on life.”
That’s when Karen’s husband, Calvin, told her about a conversation he had with his boss, whose wife, Hannah, was in the application process for a Can Do Canine. Based on their experience, he suggested the same course of action for Karen. Learning about an upcoming open house, Karen attended. “Once I went to the open house, I did see where having an assistance dog would help me very much in my everyday life and routines.”
Karen promptly applied but felt a bit nervous when, about nine months later, she was told she was matched with a female yellow Lab mix named Ulla (YOU-la). “I was hoping she would like me. When I saw her, that was it. She walked through the door with the trainer. I called her name, and she wagged her tail and came right to me, and that was it at that point. That sealed the deal.”
It’s as if they both fell for each other. Yet, it’s Karen who is falling less now, saying that Ulla helps her by picking up items she drops. Whether Karen is using her manual wheelchair, her walker, her cane, or her electric scooter, Ulla is close at hand, ready to help—even bringing some of those mobility aids to get Karen moving. Karen explains that only once in the three months that she has had Ulla so far has she stumbled to the ground. “I had fallen in the hall. My wheelchair was in the living room, and the way it was turned, Ulla was able to tug it right to me.” Without Ulla, Karen would have had to crawl—an especially painful and unadvised activity with her replaced left knee. “It’s just been so good not to fall as much,” remarks Karen.
Ulla does more than just keep Karen upright, though. She loves getting the phone for Karen and grabbing a bath towel out of a drawer for her. She also helps with laundry, pulling clothes out of the dryer, placing them in a basket, and tugging the basket for Karen. “All the tasks that she can perform really help me get through my day much easier than I could have without her. Without her, I would have had tons of falls, not being able to walk far, not going outside walking at all. So she has changed my life for the better.”
Their life together also includes going to appointments and listening to music. Karen is a reading enthusiast too…but luckily, a flexible one, as it is Ulla who makes the selection from the bookcase. Karen discloses, “Whatever book she retrieves is the choice for the day.”
Karen’s partnership with Ulla is a bit of a fairytale, bringing Karen to tears. “I love Ulla so much. She’s been an angel in my life to be able to help me so much daily. She makes my life so worth living.”
Everything is really falling into place to make this a special long-term partnership.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Whelping Home — Beth and Greg Carlson
Raisers — Kimberly Gilbertson, Melia Mackey, Rachael Mackie and Matt Fortunato
Special Thanks — Stanley Correctional Institution, University of Minnesota FETCH Program (Anna Lee, Alexis Pliscott, Jennifer Wood)