Saint Francis Service Dogs: Team Kit and Penny

Kit has disabilities that impact her balance and mobility and make her prone to broken bones and injury, and she also has a seizure disorder. Kit is also an extraordinary young woman with a variety of interests and hobbies. She has always been of the opinion that she could have an injury whether she locks herself away from the world or if she does the things she enjoys doing, so she might as well do what she likes to do! In 2012, she was matched with her first Saint Francis Service Dog, Seth. Seth helped her do those things safely. He retrieved medicine bags, went for help from her family, retrieved dropped or out of reach items, and many other tasks. Something we are not able to train for, but some dogs take to naturally, is seizure alert. Almost immediately, Seth began alerting Kit and her family to seizures. One of her favorite activities is horseback riding. Seth would stand attentively on the sidelines, and amazingly, he could alert Kit, even from a distance, if she was about to have a seizure, which would be very dangerous if she was still mounted. It was apparent to us right away that this bond was special. Seth was slowly showing signs of retirement. Unfortunately, earlier this year, he was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer and passed away on August 2. “Seth was an endless source of joy” says Kit. “He was truly my partner. He provided my life with balance and motivated me to redefine my independence.” Our trainers had been watching for years for the perfect partner to help fill Seth’s shoes. Successor dogs are dogs that are placed with prior partners of Saint Francis Service Dogs. In this case, we were also looking for a dog that could potentially do things we can’t train for. In many ways, matching a partnership is a science and an art. We match our teams based on each dog’s strengths and each partner’s needs, but we also look for character and personality traits that are intrinsic parts of each dog and person. When our staff trainer, Debbie Clifton, began working with Penny a little over a year ago, she suspected that we may have found Kit’s new partner. Penny was also puppy raised in Bland Correctional Center in our Prison Pup Program. When she was around one year old, she entered our Advanced Training program and began working with Debbie. Penny is compassionate and has a quiet sense of empathy that is steadfast. In everything Penny does, it is clear that she does it with love. She has a profound ability to be in tune to the emotions and feelings of others. This ability, that is innate in her not trained, is one of the many reasons Debbie thought Penny may be the dog for Kit. The two officially became partners just a few weeks before dear Seth passed away. After matching, we spend the weeks leading up to team training specializing each dogs’ commands and skills to best suit their partner. In some cases this means tweaking certain commands, and in others it means teaching new commands. Debbie did both to prepare Penny for Kit. In the event that Penny would need to alert for help when Kit couldn’t speak loudly or clearly, Debbie made sure Penny was able to respond to the “speak” command no matter how it was given, and that she would not stop barking until she was released, either by Kit or a family member who was there to help. Kit also has two different medicine bags – one in the refrigerator and one in a cabinet in the bathroom. Debbie taught Penny a new command that they called “bag” to indicate the bathroom medicine bag was required. Penny can now differentiate between “refrigerator” and “bag” and quickly and accurately bring the correct medicine every time. Penny and Kit attended team training with our training staff in the beginning of July and they have been living and working together ever since. Kit shared with us that getting to know Penny has been a joy. Just like Seth, Penny enables her to feel more confident navigating public forums and spaces. She assists in her safety and security in completing tasks and daily life activities on her own. Penny provides a great sense of comfort to both Kit and her loved ones. She says, “The process of interweaving not just your life, but your very being with a service dog is an experience like no other. It is a journey, and such a gift. I have become someone different because of Saint Francis, and my partnership with my service dogs. I have achieved both personal and academic success that otherwise would not have been possible. But beyond that I am confident in myself, and my ability to take on life with Penny by my side. That is an awesome feeling!”

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