Service dogs improve the lives of all

Hunter Mitchell

In the fall of 2015, after an extensive training process with the UK student-run organization Wildcat Service Dogs, I was selected to train a service puppy which would one day become a fully-functioning service dog. The following Jan., I received a nine-week old, black Labrador retriever named Mia. After that, my life catapulted into what would become daily trips around campus for socialization, practicing commands daily and constant supervision over an animal that was completely dependent on me.

Because we began going everywhere together, we quickly settled into a daily routine. I never thought about the idea of giving her up for her final training because the graduation date was so far off. However, once her one-year birthday rolled along in November, thoughts of passing her off to her next phase of training slowly began to creep to the surface of my brain.

Suddenly, Mia and I began experiencing our “final times” together: The final time we would go to classes together, the final movie we would go see and eventually the final time she would see the family and friends that she grew to love.

Eventually, Jan. 10 rolled around and it was time to take Mia up to WSD’s partner facility, Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence, in Toledo, Ohio. When we got there, the people at ADAI did an initial evaluation on her to determine whether or not they wanted to accept her into their program. After 45 minutes of waiting outside the evaluation room, they finally informed me that they had, indeed, accepted her into their program. I beamed with excitement knowing she would get the opportunity to train as a service dog, but knew deep down what that really meant; it was time to say goodbye. After a long embrace, a final puppy kiss, some words of encouragement and lots of tears, I left ADAI without my best friend.

Coming back to UK was difficult. I no longer saw a smiling face staring up at me from beside my hip while walking to class or heard tags jingling behind me when I was doing homework– just silence. However, with the help of friends, I began slowly getting past the fact that she was no longer with me.

After a week, I received a call from ADAI that informed me that they had released Mia from the program due to separation anxiety after my departure. While I was disappointed that the service life didn’t work out for Mia, I was so excited to get the opportunity to adopt her into my permanent family.

While I am sad to know that Mia will not one day be an assistant to someone who needs her, I am thrilled that I had this incredible opportunity, and I rejoice in the fact that I got to adopt her. While a service path for Mia is no longer an option, we hope to pursue a career for her as a therapy dog, visiting nursing homes and hospitals to cheer others up and brighten their day.

Training a service dog is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It is a big responsibility to train a puppy for a year, knowing the entire time that they will one day leave you. While Mia did come back to me, it made it no less difficult saying goodbye. However, as hard as it is to let go, it is so rewarding knowing the impact that these dogs will one day have on someone’s life, regardless of the path that they take.

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