How I Got My Service Dog, and How He Makes Me Feel More Prepared for College


I never expected to get a service dog. I didn’t realize what a service dog could do to help me become more independent. That all changed in December 2015 when my dad and I attended a Disabilities Expo event outside of Washington, D.C. I saw a demonstration by a service dog organization called Canine Partners for Life (CPL), and I was astounded. Their service dogs could pick up items as small as a coin, carry an iPhone in their mouth without breaking it, identify and find different objects, and so much more. I came home that day knowing I wanted to get a service dog.

I applied to get a service dog from CPL in the winter of 2016. I found out approximately a year after I applied that I had been matched with a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Chadds. For the first year of his life, Chadds was raised by inmates in a high security prison. The inmates worked together to teach Chadds over 40 commands, while volunteers took Chadds out into the community. When he turned 2, he lived in the CPL kennel for more intense training. CPL is located in the countryside of Pennsylvania, a half hour from Philadelphia and an hour and a half from where I live in Maryland. When I went to the facility to meet Chadds, I immediately fell in love. His eyes are the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, so soulful and expressive. His favorite thing to do is stand on his hind legs and place the front half of his body in my lap on my wheelchair. I could not have wished for a better dog.

a woman with her service dog in a sunflower field

CPL runs two training sessions a year, one in June and one in October. I went to the June 2017 class for an exciting and exhausting three-week lesson in having a service dog. My parents split the time, with my mom staying in Pennsylvania for the first half of the training and my dad staying with me for the second half. Nine other people and I went to the CPL facility almost every day to learn how to work with our new dogs. We practiced the tasks the dogs help with, received lessons about how to take care of our dogs, and went on field trips to test our skills. The last field trip was a day walking around downtown Philadelphia, which was a big challenge because of how crowded the city is. At the end of the three weeks, Chadds and I completed a certification test and became an official service dog pair.

Now, I could not imagine my life without Chadds. He goes everywhere with me, from stores to restaurants to high school. He often snores during class; one time, my teacher asked who was snoring, thinking it was a student, when it was actually Chadds! Chadds can always make me laugh and smile. But most importantly, he helps me with various tasks that are hard for me to do on my own. Whenever I drop an object, he picks it up right away, sometimes before I even notice I dropped something. He can press automatic door buttons by jumping up and hitting the button with his paws. Chadds helps with my laundry, which will certainly be great in college. He puts clothes in my laundry bin and pulls the laundry bin into the laundry room by using a rope. Our dryer is a front-loading dryer, and Chadds is actually able to place clothes into the dryer and take clothes out of it. Chadds can hand my wallet to a cashier, who takes my credit card to pay for my purchase and then hands the wallet back to Chadds. Chadds can shut my bedroom door and pull open cabinets. He can even find my phone or his leash when it is in another room. The best part is I can teach him new skills whenever I want. He is such a smart dog and truly enjoys helping me.

Chadds also gets some well-deserved relaxation time. He loves to cuddle, so my parents often find him sprawled across me on the couch or on the bed. He runs around in the backyard with my pet dog and plays with his favorite toys. He only relaxes at home, however. When we are out in public, Chadds knows he needs to work. Some people wonder why they cannot pet service dogs. The truth is, petting service dogs distracts them from their owner and the important work they have to do. So, please remember this next time you get the compulsion to pet a working dog, even if it is hard to resist the dog’s cuteness.

Chadds has vastly improved my life, and now I feel more comfortable going off to college on my own. I am so grateful to Canine Partners for Life for giving me the most amazing dog in the world. Service dogs are fantastic, intelligent workers who have the ability to significantly improve their owner’s independence. If you feel like a service dog could help you, I encourage you to look into getting one. You can go to https://www.assistancedogsinternational.org to find a list of accredited service dog organizations near you. I am so glad that I have Chadds and I look forward to our continued adventures together!

If you would like to learn more about my experiences as a teen girl with a disability, then check out my blog That’s Just How I Roll. You can also like my blog’s Facebook page.

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