“Independence means quality of life”
Stroke survivor thankful for third service dog
Lori is a four-time stroke survivor and a three-time recipient of a custom-trained service dog from Freedom Service Dogs. Along with service dog Pioneer, she was part of FSD’s first graduating class in 1993, back when FSD founders Michael & PJ Roche ran the organization out of their home.
Pioneer retired at 13 years old, and in 2008, Lori received her first successor dog, Kona, as part of FSD’s lifetime support program for existing clients. (The program also includes post-placement follow-up, ongoing training, and periodic service dog recertification.) Kona passed away from cancer in 2017, and in April 2019 Lori was matched with successor dog Shenzie, who is helping Lori maintain the independence that is crucial to her quality of life.
Over the past 28 years, Lori has had four strokes and several ministrokes triggered by a gene mutation. As a consequence, she has weakness on her right side and a gait abnormality called drop foot that makes it difficult to lift the front part of her foot. These conditions have limited Lori’s mobility and made it necessary for her to use a manual wheelchair.
Shenzie, a strikingly beautiful Catahoula leopard dog mix, came to FSD from the Humane Society of the South Platte Valley in Littleton, Colorado. After months of training at our facility, she was paired in April with Lori, who describes Shenzie as “a loving, work-hard, play-hard dog with an independent streak a mile wide. She quickly learns commands and is so proud of herself when she succeeds at them.”
Today, Shenzie assists her partner with opening and closing doors, retrieving items off the ground, and helping remove laundry from the dryer. Shenzie is learning how to pull Lori’s wheelchair and is being fitted with a brace-and-balance harness to assist Lori with walking—something she has not been able to enjoy except with a physical therapist and the use of a walker for the past two years.
Lori calls the ability to walk with Shenzie’s assistance one of the best examples of gaining independence in her life. “I’ve learned over the years that independence means not only quality of life, but a wonderful one,” she says. “If I have to rely on others, I feel guilty that I’ve created a burden. However, with my service dogs I enjoy extracurricular activities and paying back the donation of my service dogs by doing pet therapy in nursing homes. Also, I returned to school for my master’s degree studies and worked part-time as a peer counselor for disabled victims of domestic violence. For me, serving others is quality of life, and I couldn’t do that independently without Freedom Service Dogs and the three pups they blessed me with.”
As FSD’s longest-term client, Lori has become an expert on the benefits and challenges that come with service dogs. “The best part of having a service dog is that my disabilities are not the center of attention, but my canine partner is,” she says. “I even choose to put an ‘Ask to Pet’ sign on Shenzie’s pack because we can then act as educational tools for children and adults.”
Lori’s willingness to educate others about service dogs comes in handy on the rare occasions she has been faced with discrimination by a business. “I find this to be a teachable moment where you can educate the employees on the rules, regulations, and laws that govern having a service dog in public places. It’s also a teachable moment for you to reflect back and ask yourself if you handled it appropriately.”
Lori believes the most serious challenge is planning what you would do if your service dog had a medical emergency. “Your dog is sick, but you rely on her to get you where you need to go. How would you get to the ER? How are you going to pay for it? Have a plan in place, because dogs usually don’t get sick during normal veterinary hours. While pet insurance may mean an extra monthly cost, it’s a no-brainer compared to the financial hardship of emergency care. And be sure to ask if they have service dog discounts.”
To Lori, the challenges of living with a service dog are far outweighed by the rewards—and she offers these words of advice to every current and future FSD client. “Be very grateful for the opportunity that Freedom Service Dogs gives you to have that quality of life, to have that independence, and most of all, to enjoy life!”
Lori and Shenzie were sponsored throughout their placement class by a generous $25,000 grant investment from the Petco Foundation as part of its annual Helping Heroes fundraising campaign. Each October during the campaign, Petco customers are invited to donate online and in Petco stores to support the life-changing work of service, therapy, and other working animals. FSD is very grateful to the Petco Foundation for its extraordinary generosity in helping to make this amazing team possible.