Published: Mar 09, 2013 08:43 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2013 08:44 PM
The graduation was also a reunion.
There was 3-year-old Mack the golden retriever getting to see his brother Duncan again.
And there was Stella, another golden, falling over herself to see “puppy parent” Katie Greenwood, who’d raised Stella until she went to a woman with diabetes.
Such is the life for the four-footed graduates of Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, which added two canine-human teams to its roster Saturday in the Century Center.
It was EENP’s fourth graduation ceremony, but the first to reunite all its living clients. More than 150 people heard testimonials and brief remarks by Vanessa Woods, Duke researcher and co-author with husband Brian Hare of “The Genius of Dogs,” published last month by Dutton.
EENP has two programs:
• Diabetic Assistance Dogs use their noses to detect changes in blood sugar and alert their human partners before those changes become dangerous.
• Service Dogs help with a variety of tasks for people with disabilities such as opening doors, retrieving dropped items, flipping light switches, and helping with balance.
Kayley Thorpe has Tourette’s syndrome. She would have spasms so severe and long lasting that she needed a wheelchair.
Now, with Mack trained to brace her when a spasm is coming on, or to lie on top of her if she has fallen to calm and shorten the spasm, Thorpe goes places she never could before.
“I can’t imagine not having him,” said the Wilson County high school senior. “It’s like you have a friend you always wanted but didn’t know you did.”
Duncan, Mack’s brother, lets Ron Zolwoker know when his blood sugar is dangerously low. Zolwoker, 30, lives alone and before his assistance dog, risked passing out when he could not get help.
“He’ll give me a nose bump. He can also go to the frig and grab a juice box,” Zolkwoker said.
“People have said, ‘You should teach him to get a beer, but I don’t want him to be like a Budweiser (commercial). That would just be cheesy.”
EENP was started in 2008 to make assistance dogs more available in the Triangle area.
The dogs are raised by puppy parents and get intensive training. Clients, who pay $20,000 for the dogs, often raising money to afford them, learn to work with them through classroom presentations, hands-on practice and community field trips.
“Watching the developing partnerships is amazing,” program director Deb Cunningham said.
But watching the dog you have raised go to someone else can be hard too.
“We’ve only seen each other once in the last six months or so; I had her for two years,” Greenwood said as Stella crawled into her lap and tried to lick her face.
“It is a hard part, but you know, it’s a really special kind of relationship we get to have.”