Commentary: Why Eyes Ears Nose & Paws should remain open

November 12, 2013 

Mack, left, is trained to help Kayley Thorpe, center, a Wilson County teen who has Tourette’s syndrome. The other dog is Mack’s brother, Duncan, who works with a man with diabetes.


Eyes Ears Nose & Paws (EENP) is a nonprofit organization that trains medical alert and service dogs. We are located in Carrboro.

Recently we have been the subject of news articles in this paper (CHN, Oct. 23, and others that indicate that we are considering closing our operations. In fact we are considering an entire range of options, of which closing is certainly one along with other options including changing our model of operation. The article correctly points to the tragic death of Worthy, a wonderful service dog in training, as a turning point for EENP.

The entire EENP family was grief stricken by the senseless death of Worthy; none more so than the trainer involved and the puppy parents who had helped raise Worthy. Their grief was palpable and will remain with them for a long time. In the aftermath of this tragic event why would we consider remaining open?

We have at least nine reasons for remaining open: Ansel, Duncan, Taylor, Ginger, Mette, Mack, JJ, Stella and Little B – our successfully placed service dogs since 2010. Two more are nearing their permanent placements. Each client/dog team represents a benefit to a human life that would not have occurred without EENP. All abound with their own stories of love and commitment and the extraordinary bond that exists between dog and human.

Kayley is a 19-year-old girl with Tourette syndrome. At times, she experiences seizure-like attacks that, in the past, could last for an hour or more, leaving her exhausted. Before pairing Mack, an EENP service dog, with Kayley, she often could not stay in school or do many of the things teens get to do. With Mack, she could go to school, out on dates and to football games. And, she was able to get her drivers’ license. Mack provides balance when Kayley walks, and now if she senses the onset of a seizure-like attack, he stretches his body across her torso, causing the attack to dissipate in minutes instead of hours. With her new life, Kayley has graduated from high school and she and Mack are currently freshmen at East Carolina University.

Ron is a young man with diabetes. His service dog, Duncan, is a sweet goofy guy whose outstanding sense of smell enables him to detect when Ron’s blood sugar is beginning to run high or low. He alerts Ron by bumping his nose against his leg, letting him know that he should check his levels. Duncan has given Ron new freedom; he can live alone in an apartment, and his mother no longer calls every morning to check on her grown son.

KK is a 6-year-old girl with Mastocytosis, a rare and potentially fatal disease of the immune system. JJ is a fluffy little white dog, unlike the standard picture of a medical alert dog. Like Kayley, KK could not go to school and had to be monitored 24/7 and constantly observed for the symptoms of an episode. She would need the immediate application of medication with the first symptom. Now JJ alerts that KK is about to have an episode sometimes before she expresses any symptoms. KK is now in a public school with lots of other kids her own age. She can even go to gym classes. JJ has proven that she is an accurate and early alerter and KK is enjoying being a “ regular” little kid in classes with friends. KK and JJ were the subjects of a human interest story on the Saturday NBC 6 p.m. National News.

Why are these stories exceptional?

Because few dog training facilities will accept the challenge of working with a client with Tourette syndrome. Because no other dog training facility would even consider training a dog for a person with Mastocytosis. And only a handful of dog training facilities will train a dog for a client as young as 5 years old. We know because our clients have contacted training facilities across the country and found none that could do what we have done with success.

We do this ground-breaking training work because we have an exceptionally gifted trainer in the person of Deb Cunningham; we have a passionate director in the person of Maria Ikenberry; we have a family of wonderful committed volunteers who help train our dogs and are invaluable ambassadors for our work, and finally, we have solid donors who help us keep the doors open.

Above are three examples of the life-changing capabilities of our trained dogs. Each placed dog has its own unique success story and each represents a solid reason why we should not close this exceptional organization.

This is the decision our board is faced with. What would you do?

Gretchen Aylsworth, Josh Gurlitz and Michelle Krawczyk (KK’s mom) are members of the EENP board of directors.

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