Amanda & Ava

“Ava has given my life purpose, meaning, and focus, and having her with me makes me feel more real, more whole.”

Partially paralyzed in a car accident at 16 years old, Amanda lost a very important piece of who she was as a person—and an athlete—due to her spinal-cord injury. Twenty-five years later, a former shelter dog named Ava has become Amanda’s new service dog, best friend, and social icebreaker, with the help of Freedom Service Dogs, a sponsorship from Halliburton, and special funding from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Despite having limited mobility in all four of her limbs, Amanda has worked hard to be as self-reliant as possible and establish a career as a licensed professional counselor, all while tackling the multitude of day-to-day tasks required to live independently. In 2016, she applied for a Freedom Service Dog to help reduce her dependence on family and friends, and last fall, she was matched with Ava, a calm and loving Australian cattle dog mix who came to FSD from Midland Humane Coalition in Texas.

Because of Amanda’s limited hand dexterity, Ava has been custom trained to pick up Amanda’s keys, phone, and other dropped items, hand Amanda’s credit card to cashiers, pull off her coat, shoes, and socks, help take out the trash, unload the clothes dryer, and more. Says Amanda, “My favorite thing she’s helped with so far is opening up the fridge and getting a water. We fumbled the handoff a few times, but we’re both athletes and very determined, so we’ll keep working on it!”

Although their journey together has just begun, it’s clear that Ava is already opening up Amanda’s world. She accompanies Amanda to the gym, stores, sporting events, and dog park, where her friendly nature ensures that Amanda meets new people—and especially “dog people,” a group Amanda is proud to be part of for the first time in her life. Amanda posts adoring photos and videos of Ava’s accomplishments on social media almost daily, and the smile on her face in selfies of what she calls “The A-Team” tells the story of a dramatically—and delightfully—life-changing partnership.

Says Amanda, “With Ava, I feel like I’m getting a piece of myself back in ways I never could have imagined in terms of finding a teammate, a partner, and somebody I am so excited to learn with. I am gaining confidence with Ava and starting to see possibilities for a life of more opportunity, hope, and less struggle. I can’t wait to take our game to the next level and show the world what we can do. Thank you so much for this awesome gift and the opportunity to live my life with Ava.”

Reeve Foundation grant assists FSD clients with paralysis

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation supports organizations that enable people with paralysis to live active and independent lives. In 2018, Freedom Service Dogs was one of 66 nonprofit organizations selected for the foundation’s Quality of Life grant.

Receiving the grant from a foundation created by actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in an equestrian competition, and his wife, Dana, seems only appropriate for FSD. Our organization’s co-founder, Michael Roche, experienced paralysis after an accident and gained increased mobility and quality of life through his service dog, leading Michael and his wife, PJ, to establish FSD in 1987.

Amanda and Ava are FSD’s second client-dog team to benefit from the Reeve Foundation grant, which will fund custom dog training, follow-up visits by our trainers to clients’ homes, and the purchase of specialized equipment. In Amanda’s case, that includes a specially designed collar that Ava can wear 24/7 and a custom-made dog vest that fastens with magnets, both of which make it easier for Amanda to prepare Ava for outings. Amanda’s wheelchair was equipped with a special hook that can be attached to Ava’s leash so Amanda can use her hands to propel the manual chair while keeping Ava close by, and the team received a 2-foot leash and a 7-foot, multi-purpose leash that can be used hands-free. All of Ava’s equipment was specially designed to meet Amanda’s needs, including creating the ideal leash length for service dog work and using easy-to-open carabiners rather than standard bolt snap fasteners.

FSD is grateful to the Reeve Foundation for their generosity in helping our clients with paralysis achieve greater independence and quality of life.

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