XENIA, Ohio – Eager footwork was split between tap-dancing paws and pitter-pattering little toes from one side of the 4 Paws for Ability training floor to the other. It was graduation day for 11 dogs and their kids.
“I don’t think we were ready at all. It’s been a hard, wonderful experience,” said Kim, Cole and Chip’s mom.
From the moment that Cole set eyes on Chip during first-day introductions at 4 Paws for Ability, he wanted nothing more than to touch him, pet him, love him. His arms stretched outward to the max, as he saw his black Labrador Retriever being led to him. His eyes filled with excitement and utter joy as Chip trotted right up to him. Sitting atop his mom’s lap, Chip gave Cole a quick lick on his hand, as if to say, “Hello buddy!”
Anna, who wasn’t so sure of her new dog, Dalma, the day they met, was wearing matching red, jeweled bows, with Dalma on graduation day. Calm and relaxed the young Asian girl with shiny black hair will be returning back to Australia in July with her parents and Dalma. (Read about Anna and Dalma, in March’s Paw of the Class feature.)
“We think she’s the most gorgeous girl,” said Doris of Dalma, her family’s newest, white and fluffy addition.
Another beauty, Calypso, aka Maxie, was a beautiful white-furred cottony Goldendoodle who welcomed William, his new boy to 4 Paws for Ability, with what can only be described as a smile, and a tremendous tail-wagging. As William sat on his mom’s lap, he held his hands up and away from the large dog sitting patiently at his feet. As Karen, William’s mom, hand-fed the eager assistance dog treats, William too, slowly put his hand into the baggie full of Calypso’s favorite food, and doled out one piece at a time for his new partner—letting out small, quiet giggles as her tongue lapped his fingers while feeding her.
“’Thank you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s been wonderful… you’re a whole new family to us,” said William’s mom.
Beautiful Golden Retriever and Miami University “student” Champagne, was well-loved from the beginning by her tiny, blonde boy Jacob. As they greeted each other, Jacob stood next to his new girl, who stood at face level to him. His tiny hands reached out and touched her soft, golden fur, as she looked over her shoulder at him, her brown eyes seemed to sparkle.
Not all first meetings were so quick to bond.
Sam was a bit leery of this bubbly, black Labrador Retriever, Chili. He reached down to pet his new dog, only to be licked and slobbered on, which resulted in a disgusted, puckered-up face. But that disgust soon turned to a special bond by graduation, and apparently a new fondness for all black dogs.
“Every black dog is ‘Chili’ to Sam,” said mom Nancy, to a room full of graduates, who immediately began to chuckle.
There was absolutely no hesitation for Joseph when meeting his black Labrador Retriever, Parfait. As soon as the spunky, sleek dog was led to his boy, the petting, licking and treat nibbling commenced. Joseph wrapped his arms around Parfait’s neck, who, in turn, leaned in to lick his nose, mouth, cheek, ear, or whatever he could reach to reciprocate the love he was getting from his new human BFF.
Navin, a Golden Retriever, was greeted by, not only his new boy Ryan, but also his entire family, including a little sister. Everyone was overjoyed to meet him for the first time and he became so relaxed that he laid belly-up on the floor, mouth open, tongue hanging out, getting lots of love from his boy.
The most common word from Cayden was, “Cheese!” He posed a lot for the camera, especially with his new best friend, Neo, a Golden Retriever. On the first day of class, the small blonde literally, took the reigns and led his new four-legged friend around the training floor. It was the moment that allowed his mom to let out a much-needed sigh of relief.
“They mean everything to the kids—but mean a lot to [us] parents too… peace of mind,” said Angela, Cayden and Neo’s mom.
Gabe was quiet on his first day, and at first didn’t seem to enjoy the company of his new furry pal, Poppers, a black Labrador Retriever. Although Popper enjoyed the many treats he was receiving from the remainder of his new family. But about 20 minutes into the first day, Gabe was sitting crossed-legged on the floor, leaning down and kissing Popper’s head, which was in his lap.
Arielle and Israel graduated with Slider, a black Labrador Retriever, and were like two kids in a candy store, getting their certificates with their dog on graduation day—a sight too sweet for words.
Alyssa and Pinoy, also known as Elmo, graduated with smiles. As Alyssa stood next to her mom, she leaned up, giving her mom a kiss on the cheek, with one hand on her new best friend.
It was a day full of kisses, tears and hugs—hugs from the children to the dogs and from parent to parent. The nervousness of the first day of class had left their expressions and was replaced with laughter and many, many smiles from ear to ear, from one side of the classroom to the other.
-Photos & story by Jessica Noll-Korczyk
XENIA, Ohio – Just like Christmas morning, 10 children sat, smiling, bright-eyed and anxiously awaiting their gifts. But these weren’t like any presents—no unwrapping or batteries needed, just tender loving care… and maybe a treat or two along the way. It was time for them to meet their new best friends, their service dogs, who would change their lives instantly from the moment they met.
Their hearts seemed to melt, as each child first touched the top of their dog’s soft, furry head. And as tails wagged and treats were given in abundance, the bond began to grow between child and service dog.
Joel was the first to meet his Jubilee, a Papillon. Tiny and full of energy, Jubilee, known as JuJu Bean, jumped right into her boy’s lap. A smile took over his face and her tail wagging took over her whole body. It was an immediate connection.
Just before Andrew met Victory, a Golden Retriever he said to his mom, “I’ve been waiting for her my whole life!” His mom, Michelle smiled, simply looking to her son sitting next to her and saying, “So has she.”
By the end of introductions Andrew was sitting on the floor rubbing Victory’s belly—Victory smiling through her thick fur.
“This has been amazing—she’s wonderful. She did exactly what I needed which was to connect with him,” said Michelle about Victory after 11 days of training with their new dog.
Sophia, a quiet blonde girl sat patiently. Her piercing blue eyes stared off into the distance, trying to catch a glimpse of her own little Papillon pal, Joey. Once they met, she held him, hugged him and kissed his soft fur. She carried him around like a living doll that she could finally call her own best friend.
From the moment that Abigail met Joska, it was a bouncy road! Joska wanted nothing more than to play and as Abigail sat on the floor with her, hugging the yellow Labrador Retriever, her excited tail wagged in Abigail’s face, pushing her bob-cut of shiny black hair from side to side, and nearly knocking off her small glasses. She laughed as Joska kissed her face.
“[It’s been] a long, but great two weeks. I will miss seeing dogs romp around together. We just love our dog,” said Abigail and Joska’s mom, Jeanne at graduation about the connection between the dogs in class.
Asha, a Golden Retriever wasn’t just met by her new boy William, but also by his two younger, equally eager sisters. But Asha was happy to share the attention with all three children as they petted her soft, golden fur, which was reciprocated by loads of wet laps to their faces.
“It’s been a life-changing experience—$13,000 was nothing for what you gave us,” said William and Ashas’s mom, Lori.
Big, furry, black and gray, curly haired Boss, a Goldendoodle, was more than ready to meet his girl Danielle and his whole new family. They immediately fell in love and Boss was more than happy to lie down, roll over and receive belly rub after belly rub for the remainder of the morning.
Alexa, with a head full of curly hair and glasses mounted on her face, just above the smile that situated from ear to ear, sat bouncing, waiting, not so patiently for her BFF Kizzy, a black Labrador Retriever. She giggled as the large dog kissed her hands for more treats, as she sat upon the wicker couch with her mom by her side. She could not erase the smile from her face the entire morning.
“We would’ve never guessed how much we’d grow to love this dog so fast. The friendship and bond is amazing. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is what we needed to do,” said Alexa and Kizzy’s mom, Christy.
Nathan, a shy little boy, was very cautious about meeting such a big animal that was Sprint, a Golden Retriever. He sat next to his mom, with his tiny hands folded up close to his face watching as his mom petted his new service dog. His fear subsided throughout the next 11 days.
Alex, 25, met Chantay aka Zuzu, another Golden Retriever with a nervous smile. He sat in his chair, legs crossed as his new dog was ushered to him. His parents on either side of him gave Chantay treats and encouraged their son to do the same. Once he did, he laughed, as the slobbery tongue of his new best friend tickled his treat-filled hand.
CJ rolled into 4 Paws in his wheelchair, pushed by his mom. Once inside, his smile was luminous and contagious. And that was before he even set his sights on Dudley, a black Labrador Retriever. His smile moved from his mouth and took over not only his face, but also his entire body, as he jumped in his seat, excited to pet his new dog for the first time ever.
After 11 days of training, the day had finally come for 10 kids and 10 dogs to take their relationship to the next level, as an official child/service dog team.
Graduation day commenced with some peanut butter kisses as teams, William and Asha and Alex and Chantay, shared peanut butter from cheek and finger to dog tongue.
It was a packed house, including foster families, volunteers, family and friends of those in class and all 4 Paws for Ability staff. All who cared for the dogs who were graduating shared in the joy and solace knowing that they played a part in making a child’s life better.
Miami University students, Kristin McNamara and Kristy Lind came bearing Christmas gifts for each child. As they received their graduation certificate, they received a wrapped present, full of candy and other goodies, from the two students who fostered Champagne, a Golden Retriever during the fall semester.
“I didn’t foster anyone from the December class. Our group just wanted to do something for the kiddos,” said McNamara, a special education major, who helped start up the 4 Paws for Ability’s Campus Program at Miami.
McNamara witnessed the emotion and gratitude exuded by the parents.
“Graduation day is really a day of pure happiness. When you look around the room there is not one person who doesn’t have a smile on their face. Although there is some sadness, graduation day is the day you always dream of as fosters. You see your dog up there with their kid getting their diploma, and your dream finally starts to become true,” she said.
So many dreams came true. It was a magical day at 4 Paws for Ability. The holiday spirit was in-house that day.
“Merry Christmas! This is the best Christmas ever… priceless gift to our family,” said Danielle and Boss’s mom, Kim. She said that knowing that there are other dogs and families like us, they don’t feel alone anymore.
4 Paws dogs gave them a sense of belonging and security… maybe that is the greatest gift of all. As the story goes, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.”
-Photos & article by Jessica Noll-Korczyk
*To help place more dogs like our December graduates, DONATE NOW.
XENIA, Ohio – After wrangling everyone, dogs included, into a giant, smooshed, group photo to commemorate the day that was a long-time coming for everyone in the room, it was time to celebrate their achievement.
After 11 days of tracking and tethering and training, not to mention a fabulous Howl-o-Ween Trunk or Treat celebration, it was October’s PAWsitively Blessed class’s graduation. And it goes without saying, tears were shed by all. It was admittedly a hard and trying week for most everyone in class. In fact, there seemed to be a moment by each and every family when they were ready to pack up and go home—which was one of many emotions they weren’t prepared for when they arrive at class. But they stayed. Now they were grateful for the experience, their 4 Paws service dogs and their new 4 Paws family.
“[I] was ready to go home after the mall—but they bonded very quickly,” said Trinity’s grandmother at graduation about their Golden Retriever Tony.
They seemed to bond on the first day of class at their introduction. The small strawberry-blond girl sat patiently as Tony was led to her. She giggled and stroked his long, golden fur on top of his head. She loved her dog and Tony loved his girl.
Samuel was matched with Lugnut and it was a moment his family had been waiting for a long, long time.
His innocent, warm brown eyes, peered across the 4 Paws training floor, as one by one, each dog was given to the other families in the October class. Finally, it was time for Lugnut to be led across the floor and into his arms.
As the beautiful, Golden Retriever made his way to his boy; Samuel’s eye lit up like it was Christmas morning. His hands began to clap together and his smile was uncontrollably from ear to ear. This was the best gift his parents could ever imagine for their son.
“I’m speechless. It’s been an amazing two weeks,” said David, Samuel’s father. “The 1st day I wondered what we got ourselves into—but now, we see a lot of hope and help in this.”
“This is the beginning of a new normal for us,” he continued, as he sobbed.
The always-loving Tali, who could be seen kissing her mom during graduation photos, also loved her Zotz, a yellow Labrador Retriever.
Mork and Noah were not pals right away, but the fluffy, four-legged friend of his was going to change the lives of his family—although, his dad admitted on graduation to being nervous, very, very nervous, he laughed asking the trainers to accompany them to their home.
On the first day, Jeff wasn’t too sure about Clifford. He didn’t want to touch him at the beginning of class. It was something that had to happen over time.
Beckett and Charlie were two of a kind from the start. They both seemed to have smiles glued to their faces from day one. And those smiles made others enjoy class even more, especially during 4 Paws’ Annual Howl-o-Ween celebration, when they came dressed as pirates. Argh, matees! Beckett was of course from the Pirate Litter after all! Shiver me timbers!
“Fantastic edition to our family,” said Drew’s mom Mary, as she cried, about Gauge. “[I] can’t believe we’re going home with our dog!”
Tania, Nate and Chevy’s mom, said bursting with tears of joy regarding her experience at 4 Paws for Ability, “You know the poem ‘Welcome to Holland’? Well this is ‘Welcome to Xenia.’” (Welcome to Holland is an essay, written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley, about having a child with a disability.)
“4 Paws, you’re my new family. Our journey was hard. [But] we have a great gift to go home with.”
Nate’s smile on the first day never faded throughout class. On graduation day, he flew across the floor with diploma in hand, excited for his accomplishment and even more excited to go home with his Chevy.
“She’s a crack head! But man she’s awesome!” he said laughing with the entire room. “She makes us so comfortable… to know he has a friend, and [that] she won’t lose him. And Da’Myron… well he never stopped smiling from the moment he stepped his tiny foot inside 4 Paws.
“You’re meant to have the dog you have. It’s just meant to be—all of us here,” said Carson’s mom Denise, regarding their switch from Pace to Vito.
Patrick’s father told the class at graduation how they came to the decision to get a service dog for their non-verbal son. While he cannot speak, he does type. And he told his dad that he wanted a dog. With a shaky voice full of emotion, he said he remembered that Patrick typed, “I want a best friend.” And two and a half years later they have Jethro. So he asked Patrick during class at 4 Paws, ‘What do you think?’ To that he typed, “I love him.” And that, his dad said, sums it up for his family. But what truly sums up their experience may have been the quiet moment between Patrick’s father and Jethro, as he leaned down and hugged his son’s service dog around the neck during graduation. The bond is strong… for the entire family.
There wasn’t a single cheek not stained from tears by the time the families were finished telling all who gathered for graduation what the past 11 days has meant to them. Training director, Jeremy Dulebohn finished up graduation, saying that dogs are amazing creatures.
“What a service dog can do to change a life is evident here today. Unlike any other creature, they can give unconditional love.”
-Photos and article by Jessica Noll
Story Book Litter
J is for Joy Litter
Golden Labrador Retriever
Mork and Mindy Litter