‘Twas a paw before Christmas…

By | Miscellaneous
‘Twas a paw before Christmas, when all through the facility, 
not a dog was stirring, not even Dudley or Kizzy.
In 4 Paws for Ability, the crates were closed with care, 
in hopes that their children would soon be there.
Meanwhile in their homes, the children were snuggled into bed, 
while visions of furry service dogs scurried in their heads.
With Karen at her desk and Piper in her vest,
they began sending out letters to 4 Paws’ boys and girls, quite frankly, they’re the best.
One by one, the children received their long-awaited email and to their delight,
a brand new tail-wagging friend was in their sight.
It was time to come to Xenia and meet their match,
their new friends who like to romp and run and play catch.

They’ll play and lick and eat,
but first things first, they want their treat.
The day had arrived just as it may, 
and Karen whistled, and shouted, and called them all by name!
“Now Asha! now, Joey! now, Victory and Boss!
On, Sprint! On, Joska! on, Chantay and Jubliee!

To the training room floor!
Meet your boy!
Meet your girl!
With a lick to the face,
One thing’s for sure… 
through thick and thin, these pairs will surely endure. 
Ordinary dogs these are certainly not,
They are magical and wondrous and accomplished on every spot.
They can track and nuzzle and open doors,
and that’s because these dogs are trained by Jeremy and Jessa and Jennifer.
Smiles on faces cannot be ignored,
these dogs are perfect for each child that is for sure.
Whatever they want, whatever they need
their new best friend will lend a paw indeed.
So with their new dogs on leash,
parents are so touched they cannot speak.
It’s a Christmas season like no other,
they shed a tear and then another.
A gift of this dog provides more than a friend,
but rather a bond that will forever transcend. 
Cute puppies are born day and night, 
but only a select few can be as grand as a service dog, yep, that’s right.
Try as you may and try as you might, we want to wish,
“Happy Howl-idays to all, and to all a goodnight!”
-By Jessica Noll-Korczyk

Holiday Hounds: December.2012 Class

By | Class Graduates, Service Dog Stories

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.

Karen Shirk nominated for Rare Life Award

By | Miscellaneous

Our very own founder and executive director, Karen Shirk has been nominated for the ‘Rare Life Award’ presented by Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This honor is given to those who exhibit Courage, Leadership, Survival, Heroism, Devotion and/or Character. Winners will receive a medal, presented at a reception given in their honor, and be featured in Eagle Rare promotional materials. 

4 Paws is eligible to win one of six $3,000 awards or the top prize of $30,000 award. Please vote for Karen through Feb. 15 @ www.eaglerarelife.com. You can vote EVERY 24 HOURS!

Gift idea… everyone needs a 4 Paws t-shirt in their stocking

By | Miscellaneous

Looking for a gift idea? How about this shirt?

The tees are designed by Michelle Sorrells and $16 each and include shipping. Email Kerry @ kerry1224@aol.com to order!
Youth sizes in blue S, M, L
Adult sizes in black S, M,L, XL, XXL

Gabe & Ellie… it takes a team

By | Miscellaneous

KINGS MILLS, Ohio – Kelly Howard was ready for the next chapter of her life to begin—moving from motherhood to being a “nana,” who would be able to spoil her newest grandson rotten. But this grandmother’s life would change forever eight years ago. That change was Gabriel.

“He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. He made me a better person,” said Kelly. “Some say, ‘He’s so lucky to have you. No, I’m the lucky one to have him.”

The mother of two sons, and now a grandson, who they call “Gabe,” Kelly, a nurse for the VA Hospital in Cincinnati, has a lot of help, including her husband and sons—which is good since Gabe has a rare disorder in which his frontal lobe is malformed. It causes cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Overall, he is non-verbal and has the developmental level of between a 2- and 3-year-old.

Her husband Eric, known as “papa”; Keith, Gabe’s uncle, who can relate with his own seizure disorder; and Eric II, Gabe’s biological father, all help in the care of the fun-loving little boy, who just happens to be in a wheelchair.

“Gabe doesn’t know—he’s the happiest kid,” said Kelly.

During class at 4 Paws for Ability, the 8-year-old scooted and glided across the floor on his hands and knees with nothing but a bright, toothy smile across his excited face. Putting smiles on everyone else’s faces as well.

Although the brown-haired, brown-eyed little boy is non-verbal, he does communicate. Kelly said he talks with his smiles, his noises and by pointing. They are currently working with a “talker,” a speech device for him to communicate easier with his family.

Gabe’s story didn’t start the moment he walked into 4 Paws for Ability, rather it started more than eight years ago when his mom and dad met in college. They met during Eric II’s freshman year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His girlfriend became pregnant with Gabe and soon they were married. The expectant couple then moved in with Kelly and Eric in their Kings Mills, Ohio, home.

When Gabe was just 5 months old, Eric II enlisted into the Coast Guard and was deployed. He and Gabe’s mom divorced and the burden of being a single mother was too much for her to handle, said Kelly. Therefore, as Gabe’s grandma, she stepped in and began, rather continued, raising him with her husband.

As a nurse, Kelly said she knew something was wrong. Eventually Gabe was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a moment for her that was like “hitting a brick wall,” she remembered. It was a wall that she broke through for Gabe.

Everyone always thinks that the best part of being a grandmother, Kelly said, is that you can love your grandkids and then give them back after a visit. Well, not for her.

“I don’t care that I can’t give him back, I never felt that way. I always have had a bond with him,” she said. “I just felt like I didn’t want to give him 

back. He needed me and we needed each other.”

It took 5 years, but eventually Kelly and Eric gained custody of Gabe and adopted him as their very own—making them parents to three sons.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way—I’ve loved him since the day I found out he was coming.”

Luckily, everyone pitches in.

“It takes a team to raise Gabriel,” said Kelly, of her household that now includes Gabe’s dad who has returned home from the Coast Guard.

In the morning Eric II dresses his son. Papa feeds him yogurt, gives him his medicine and takes him to school. In the afternoon, papa picks him up from school. Nana comes home after work, and feeds Gabe. Eric and Eric, dad and papa respectively, bathe Gabe; and then Kelly lays down with him in bed to snuggle with him and help him to fall asleep, a task that she hopes a service dog can assist with. That’s why they came to 4 Paws for Ability. 

“Every boy needs a dog to snuggle with,” Kelly grinned. Gabe isn’t use to being alone while sleeping—he wakes up frequently without someone by his side. He wants someone with him all the time, she said. A service dog can be his companion, not a babysitter, but a friend, she said. However, that’s not the only thing she wanted a service dog for when it came to her grandson.

Eldora, a Golden Retriever, aka “Ellie” was trained in seizure alert, comfort/behavioral, retrieval/opening doors, drawers/turning on lights.

“On bad days, she can give him comfort by ‘nuzzling’ him,” said Kelly.

She hopes that Ellie can comfort him on good days too, like days when he has to go the doctor and physical therapy, hopefully calming him and distracting him from any pain that he might endure during his sessions. He has at least two doctor’s appointments per week and one therapy appointment, not to mention his hospital visits to have his teeth cleaned. He has to undergo anesthesia, but Ellie will be there, Kelly said, when he wakes up and opens his deep brown eyes to look into the equally big brown eyes of his new best friend, Ellie.

Tasks that, Kelly said, will allow Gabe to gain more independence, so that he won’t be “stuck at 8 for the rest of his life.”

“I just look at [Ellie] as an opportunity for Gabe to be all he can be. Something I can give him to make his life as full as it can be,” she said.

There are times that Kelly thinks about the memories that her grandson will never have the chance to make, like playing catch with his dad, but she said he could play with his dog; ‘walk’ his dog.

“He loves walking his dog,” she said with a giggle. “[Ellie] walks beside his wheelchair” as Kelly walks Ellie.

After 11 days of training with Ellie at 4 Paws, graduation day was finally upon them. But it was a rough start to what was suppose to be a day for celebrating.

Gabe had a seizure that morning, but true to form, Ellie cuddled with him afterward, calming him down. And by the time graduation commenced that afternoon, the little boy, with Ellie by his side, was all smiles. A smile that Kelly said is rare not to see across Gabe’s face. It’s that smile that keeps her going day after day.

His “team” was all at graduation and ready to cheer on their little man with his newest, furry, four-legged best friend Ellie, whom they can now add her to their family, their team… Team Gabe, that is.

For now, this nana isn’t going to be traveling anytime soon as an empty nester nor checking out new sports cars, but rather test-driving vans with wheelchair lifts. And she can’t think of anything she’d rather be doing.

“I can’t imagine not having Gabe. Everything has a purpose,” said Kelly. “There is a reason why we have Gabe. He’s opened our eyes to what’s important, [reminding us to] not sweat the small stuff. It can always be worse.”

-Photos and article by Jessica Noll

PAWsitively Blessed | October.2012 Class

By | Class Graduates, Service Dog Stories

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!

For one little, quiet, shy boy, it’s an unbelievable moment for his family, as they graduate just 11 days after meeting their newest family member.

“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.

Corey, Da’Myron’s dad, also tearful, said that they were excited to have Etta, and then broke the tension felt throughout the room with a joke.

“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.

While not everyone is leaving with the dog they were first introduced to, they are all leaving with the dog that was meant to be for their child.

“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


(For more photos and stories about this and all our classes from September/October, please sign up for our 4PawPrints newsletter! Or read it, click here.)








October Class.2012—


Pirates Litter
Partner- Charlie

Golden Retriever
Partner- Nate

Labrador Retriever
Story Book Litter
Partner- Jeff

Golden Retriever
Rockstar Litter
Partner- Da’Myron

Golden Retriever
Partner- Drew

Labrador Retriever
J is for Joy Litter
Partner- Patrick

Golden Retriever
Partner- Samuel

Golden Retriever
Partner- Trinity

Golden Labrador Retriever
Candy Litter
Partner- Tali

Partner- Carson

Mork and Mindy Litter
Partner: Noah




Samuel’s journey to find Lugnut, just the beginning of a better life

By | Miscellaneous

XENIA, Ohio – Samuel DeWitt stands just inside the familiar safe haven of his mother’s arms as she leans over him. With a blue permanent marker in her left hand she sketches his name and the date “Samuel 11.2.12” onto the large cream-colored canvas backdrop. His tiny hand overlaps her right hand that’s pressed up against the canvas. He carefully watches as each letter finds its way onto the 4 Paws Graduation sign. It’s a moment that they have waited a year and a half to experience. Lugnut was finally coming home with 6-year-old Samuel. Samuel and Lugnut were graduating as a boy and his service dog.

“We’re PAWsitively Blessed. It’s an amazing blessing for us and one we never thought we’d have,” said David DeWitt, pastor for Mt. Orab Wesleyan and Samuel’s father.

But before their tears of joy and gratitude could stream down the DeWitt family’s faces, they would shed a few thousand wet drops of sadness, disappointment and anger on a journey they won’t ever forget—a journey that got them to this moment. 


Long journey with a sweet ending, new beginning—

Their story started back in April 2011 when they began fundraising for a “service dog” through Animals for Autism, located in Illinois. 

Samuel, who loves popsicles and reading, was eager to meet his Siberian huskie named Shadow—a dog his mom and dad had hoped would be the answer to their prayers. But that day would never come for the then-5-year-old, wide-eyed little boy. 

Back in June 2011, the DeWitts, of Mt. Orab, Ohio, raised money to obtain Shadow. They fundraised. They posted their journey on their Facebook page Autism’s Ruff. They did news stories. They sent money… but no dog. They called, they emailed… but nothing. In fact, the organization they were working with seemed to have disappeared completely off the map.

The DeWitts had sought after a service dog because they feared for Samuel’s safety. Samuel has autism. His mom, Elizabeth who is a stay-at-home mom and who homeschools Samuel; said autism does not stop their active son.

“He has a gift for not giving up. Things can be kind of challenging to him and he kind of inspires the rest of us. He doesn’t let anything stop him.”

It’s been challenging and sometimes heartbreaking for his parents. Just before his diagnosis, Samuel lost the ability to say “momma.”

“It was difficult to have my son say things like ‘momma, dadda’ and then, you know, to lose those. When lost [‘momma’], I kind of waited another two years to hear that,” said Elizabeth.

Finding out that their son had autism nearly three years ago planted a mix of emotions for both parents.

“In some ways it was a relief that we’re finding out and in other ways it was gut wrenching, just because you know every day he’s going to struggle with something probably for the rest of his life,” said David.

That’s where the family had hoped the money they were raising would help provide their son with a much-needed service dog in order to keep him safe.

“Samuel doesn’t understand some of the dangers. He has no fear of like bodies of water or cars or even strangers. Samuel doesn’t think anything about walking up to a stranger. And so, the dog will help, number one, to keep Samuel from wandering away from us; will help keep Samuel with us,” said Elizabeth. But after they were let down by Animals for Autism, the family felt defeated—like they were about to have to start all over.

Samuel, for one, was not giving up his mom remembered.

“He has a determination that where most people would might give up on things when it gets too tough, Samuel, a lot of things are tough for him, so he doesn’t have that option so he continues to go and fight and push on.”

“[And it’s] our goal to give him the best possible life we can,” said Elizabeth.

It’s that determination, and a little help from Karen Shirk, that got Samuel to his graduation from 4 Paws for Ability.

In February 2012, it became apparent that Samuel was not going to receive a service dog from the organization his family had sent money to. They put away the photo of “Shadow” that Samuel had carried around for so long—assuming it was going to be his furry best friend. It wasn’t going to happen. But that’s when 4 Paws for Ability stepped in to lend a helping paw… well, four paws to be exact.

“We felt that this family had been through enough,” said Shirk after a news story about the DeWitts was brought to her attention. 

She decided to donate a $22,000 service dog to Samuel—funding came from Wrestle Against Autism and an anonymous foundation in Cincinnati. 

“[This dog is] going to give Samuel opportunities to really have normal functioning and give him a better daily life,” said David, who was grateful for the outpouring of support for his son and his family. 

“It was just such an amazing act of kindness,” he said just after meeting Karen for the first time just eight months ago. 

Samuel was pretty excited too. 

“We had sat down and actually had talked with him a little bit that Samuel, you are going to get a dog. And we weren’t quite sure it really even sunk in at first, but about three or four minutes later, Samuel was just running around the house going, “Oh man! Oh man! Oh man!” said Elizabeth of her son’s reaction. 

Just a few weeks ago, the DeWitts received their match from 4 Paws, which included a photo and letter from their service dog Lugnut. It was a moment Elizabeth said she would never forget, bringing tears of joy to her eyes.

Now, the real journey was about to begin.


Enter Lugnut—

The night before their first day of class Samuel kept shouting “Fun! Fun! Fun!” said his parents, who were equally as eager to get their son to 4 Paws for Ability to begin the last chapter to their long story. On the first day of their 11-day class, Samuel dragged his parents and sister Abigail to the front doors at 4 Paws for Ability. He was ready.

The 6-year-old with a light brown buzz-cut sat on his mom’s lap, stroking her curly, brown shoulder-length hair, waiting to meet his best friend, Lugnut.

Elizabeth, who sat with her arms wrapped around her fidgety son, said they weren’t sure if Samuel would understand what meeting Lugnut meant.

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.

Never in a million years did his parents believe that this was truly going to be a “picture perfect moment.” Samuel, they said, gets scared when meeting someone for the first time, when someone/something new is introduced to him. But as they watched in disbelief, they reveled in the fact that this time, they were wrong.

“His face [told us] he completely understood,” said Elizabeth about the first time her son saw his service dog.

Licks were bountiful as was Lugnut’s tremendous energy. Samuel giggled with excitement as Lugnut jumped and put his paws onto David’s shoulders in between eating handfuls of treats from his boy.

“He’s got boundless energy,” said David, which soon turned into a worry to him—but a worry that he would soon see as a PAWsitive blessing to his son.

David and Elizabeth felt like pinching themselves, afraid it was all just a dream… waiting for the ball to drop and something bad to take away the joy that they were experiencing in overload that first day of class.

“We were waiting for the moment for something to fall through—this is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” said David.

Soon, they experienced what they thought might be that ball-dropping moment. Samuel began to sneeze and his face was breaking out in hives within minutes of meeting Lugnut.

Turned out, Samuel was allergic to Lugnut’s kisses, his saliva. Now, they keep him from licking Samuel as much as they can.

Day 1 would only be the beginning of this chapter in their story.


Training Samuel’s new BFF and his parents—

While it wasn’t an easy 11 days, it was eye opening to the DeWitts.

“If he doesn’t do one other single thing… he’s incredible,” said David. “He’s a tracking machine—he’s a beast. He’s exactly what we need.”

Lugnut was finally was able to use up that energy that at first was of concern to Samuel’s parents.

Tracking his boy, Lugnut certainly gave chase—through a variety of weather: the sleet, the snow, the sun, the rain and the cold. They went through it all. On the first day of tracking, David wasn’t expecting the sheer force this dog would have in finding his son. He soon would find out. As Lugnut took off to find Samuel, David stepped in to a hole, falling, losing Lugnut’s leash. This was one of the many moments they were ready to pack up and go home, he said.

“I panicked at first,” said David. But then realized that regardless of his own tumble to the ground, Lugnut found Samuel in record speed. In the days that followed, Lugnut ran through fences and a dry creek bed, all in search of his boy.

“Even when I screwed up, he found Samuel,” said David. “He was determined he was going to find his boy.”

His parents were finally realizing the magnitude of what Lugnut was going to be able to do for their entire family, including giving Samuel something he has never had before: independence.

Elizabeth said that her son cannot do what most typical 6-year-olds can, like go the zoo or the mall, at least not as freely as most children his age. She said that they have to put Samuel in a stroller or hold both of his wrists, stripping his freedom completely away—robbing him of part of his childhood, she said. But that was all about to change.

Samuel got his first taste of freedom while he was tethered to Lugnut during training at the mall. It was in that moment that Elizabeth saw what this could mean for her son and the rest of his life.

“It’s a sense of independence he will gain, that he’d get no other way. Seeing that for the first time was incredible,” she said. “It gave him part of his childhood back.”

There have been so many experiences that they have had to take away from Samuel, fearing for his safety, said Elizabeth. But now, with tethering, those moments can be given back to him one at a time. And to them, that is a big deal.

“Those things that everyone takes for granted, we can’t and that’ll make a huge difference,” said David. “[An] incredible difference this will make for him not just now but years to come—day in, day out, just giving him a better daily life.”

And in their daily life, which includes taking Lugnut everywhere Samuel goes, they hope to enlighten the public.

“This is going to be a challenge, but also an opportunity to educate people,” said Elizabeth. “Samuel gets noticed for the wrong reasons, like stimming. If they’re not staring, they’re ignoring him.”

More importantly, Samuel will be taking steps inside the grocery store, church, wherever, on his own and that is “monumental,” said David.

They plan to “use Lugnut as a social bridge for Samuel in public,” said Elizabeth, who is looking forward to the first time they are able to go to church tethered, walk into Kroger tethered, go anywhere they want tethered—knowing that Samuel is safer than he was just 11 days ago without Lugnut by his side.

“People would never think to deny someone who needs a wheelchair or oxygen tank… this is just as important,” said Elizabeth about taking her son and his service dog into public spaces, stores, etc.

She hopes that if people see Samuel in public with Lugnut, “they’ll see Samuel as a boy—giving him a chance to connect with people, to connect with other kids.”


Graduation day, final chapter?

Lugnut is Samuel’s “perfect match,” said his parents with pride in their eyes. Following Samuel’s every step, Lugnut is very tolerant of ear flicking, ear tugging and getting the pads of his feet rubbed, said Elizabeth. “We see why he was chosen [for Samuel].”

The bond wasn’t something she expected so soon.

On the way to his last day of class, she looked in the rearview mirror to see Lugnut’s head in Samuel’s lap and Samuel’s hand resting on Lugnut’s head. 

“[That’s] priceless to us.”

Priceless moment? Yes. Easy getting there? Not hardly.

“It wasn’t easy—but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s good,” said David about the class at 4 Paws for Ability that was coming to an end.

After 11 days of doubt and dismay, tragedies and triumphs, the morning of their 4 Paws test had finally arrived. They feared the worst for Lugnut, afraid that he wasn’t going to pass. It was unfounded worry. Lugnut shined.

“When he’s in public, he’s on it,” said Elizabeth about the newest member of the DeWitt family. He passed with flying colors.

The moment that Elizabeth held Lugnut’s shiny, metal, engraved service dog tag in her hands, that’s when she said it hit her. She cried, realizing that “we’re going home with Samuel’s service dog.”

After 16 months it was now the end of one chapter, allowing the DeWitts to move on to the next.

“It’s not an ending, it’s a new beginning—or maybe the start of a new book. This story isn’t over,” said David, who doesn’t regret the bumpy road they had to take to their destination: 4 Paws for Ability. “We took a different turn than we thought we were going to and in the end the path was much better.”

It’s been a lot of ups, downs, fears and tears, but overall, they wouldn’t trade the past 11 days or even the last year and a half for anything because it all brought them to the one thing that they truly wanted for their son all along: a better life.

“If we hadn’t gone through what we did, we wouldn’t be here now. For whatever reason this is the way it was meant to be,” said David. “It’s an amazing blessing. It will change our lives forever.”

“We have the tools now to keep Samuel safe—it’s a peace of mind.”

The day was full of emotion for Elizabeth, David, Abigail and Samuel’s aunt Patty DeWitt. It was a day that they weren’t sure would ever happen. They cried knowing what this day would mean for their Samuel and for the rest of their lives.

Lugnut will “not make life easier, but will make Samuel’s life better,” said Elizabeth. “Lugnut was the dog that was meant for Samuel all along.”

-Photos and article by Jessica Noll


Read their story below via the links, and on their Facebook page Autism’s Ruff.

Samuel Series: A boy’s journey to his best friend for life-

By Jessica Noll 

Story #1- Puppy to help Mt. Orab boy 

Story #2- Local family feels scammed by autism organization

Story #3- Autistic boy finally gets dog after scam