These up-close-and-personal profiles of our newest client-dog teams, who went through placement class in October, were written by FSD Director of Client Services Amanda Vallo. Amanda graduated with her own service dog, Ava, in 2018 and is an unabashed fan of the Michigan Wolverines, Seattle Storm, and anything and everything basketball.
In tribute to the ‘99ers—the U.S. Women’s Soccer team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup in an electrifying finish, authoring a pivotal moment in women’s sports history (and I daresay all sports history) and influencing millions of lives, including my own—I am sliding across my home office floor, fist clenched, to introduce the largest class in recent FSD history: the 9ers!
Like the ‘99ers, the 9ers are notable for their resiliency, power, strength, dedication, and commitment in arriving at this point in their lives. FSD raises the trophy to them and to all kennel techs, trainers, volunteers, fosters, and staff going above and beyond in caring so much, working so hard, and having such a huge impact in changing lives for the better. Take a moment to enjoy, feel the goodness, and celebrate the win!
Alex & Dakota
Alex—whose name means “defender of men”—served seven-plus years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. As destiny might have it, he’s found his way to Dakota, a sweet, bright, sensitive soul who carries the name “ally and friend.” Battling through the effects of PTSD, Alex aspires to be the best father he can be to his wife and 4-year-old daughter by day, and by night, he looks to continue his education through graduate studies. With Dakota by his side, Alex is more confidently ready to share some of the load in public, as his camo-caped ally creates space and provides a reliable lap cover when Alex needs grounding.
Eric & Goose
Nothing is cooler than a former U.S. Air Force KC-135 crew chief flying his Jeep down the road with his lanky wingman’s head hanging out the window, poodle puff blowin’ in the wind! Eric’s response to any challenge when facing life with traumatic brain injury and upper-body paralysis is, “I’m ready!” In addition to countering “Not good, Mav!” with a lean when Eric’s steps go off balance, Goose will continue to keep his head on a swivel looking for and retrieving dropped items for his Top Gun.
Jonathan & Peloton
Jonathan, a student taking classes in construction management, is living life with a C5 incomplete spinal cord injury. Prior to being matched with a service dog, Jonathan really wanted a male, but his girlfriend thought it was going to be a female. On match day, Jonathan met Peloton, a female yellow Lab, and one other potential candidate, a male. Holding my breath, I asked, “Well, what are your thoughts? Does one stand out over the other?” I had already packed it up for Peloton and was ready to give her the “It’s not you, it’s them” #girlpower speech. Without hesitation, Jonathan said, “Peloton.” Not “I like them both.” One confident, unwavering word: “Peloton.” So, Kobe Bryant (RIP), Steph Curry, and Jonathan are all now girl dads. Never having to explain, just defining what is cool. In addition to aiding and assisting in smashing stereotypes, Peloton is ready to go pro with her skills in picking up dropped items, opening doors, and running the floor with her sister Jynx, an FSD career-changer.
K & Patriot
A credit to her faith and optimism, K spent four years on FSD’s waiting list. If being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is a life sentence to misery, someone forgot to tell K, who is already showing an uncanny ability to lead a dog next to a Segway. On match day, all watched and nodded as she rolled into the play yard, took command, and put young pup Patriot through his paces. Patriot’s fearless nature and youthful enthusiasm will be put to the test as this team floats down the river with grandkids on the family raft or gets reprimanded by K’s sons for taking off on a hike to track down a moose! Patriot will also be working to increase K’s confidence and independence as he retrieves forearm crutches, nose punches handicap buttons, and gives a reassuring face nuzzle when K needs help getting through anxious moments.
Marlis & Jester
Marlis is a retired therapist and a musician whose repertoire includes ukulele, piano, guitar, and saxophone. A biking accident left her with a traumatic brain injury that affects her strength and stamina, but with Jester as her battle buddy, Marlis continues to dream of taking hikes and finding her own path through the woods. With Jester’s ability to pick things up quickly, retrieve dropped items, and occasionally give poodle-y vocalizations, all are eager to see what sweet music they will make together. (So far, Jester says her voice is her instrument, being self-taught and born with perfect pitch. After all, she is a poodle!)
Nina & Fuego
NINA-FUEGO 2021! Getting a 100% approval rating from FSD staff, former Communications Intern Nina has teamed up with enthusiastic running mate Fuego. Nina, now a social worker at a charter middle school in Denver, is ready to set the world en Fuego as she unleashes the power of silly antics and social-emotional learning on students. While there has been joy and dancing in Nina-Fuego headquarters, an ugly mudslinging campaign is actively being monitored. Nina will fill us with pride as she and Fuego work together to advance animal-assisted learning with youth needing extra support—and negotiate a peace with Bear, her roommate’s cat.
Patrick & Midge
Patrick lives in Indianapolis and is a veteran, a former security specialist for the U.S. Air Force. He also holds the distinction of being the quickest to let his guard down when meeting his canine partner. Upon seeing sweet Midge’s face on Zoom, our softhearted Harley motorcycle jacket-wearing hero clearly let out, “I’m in love with her already!” Midge isn’t sure what all the fuss is about, but she said she’s ready to roll and eager to help recover dropped items and navigate through the harrowing lanes of public traffic in Patrick’s daily routine.
Therese & Bowlen
A psychologist for Littleton Public Schools who works with high school students who have experienced trauma, Therese is clearly passionate about her job. It’s the same excitement and commitment she brought to partnering with Bowlen on match day. Therese left her therapist poker face at the door as two candidates awaited her in the play yard. She had only one treat to give. She got to her knees and proposed: “Do you want to be my therapy dog?”—and the treat went to Bowlen! Bowlen accepted, and they are currently planning a future together that involves Therese’s husband, no kids, a yard with a fence, and two canine siblings.
Tyson & Fergus
Every top class needs a veteran to show the rooks the way. Tyson has done active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan serving for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force (we did not go small!). He is also an FSD successor client, ready to retire Argon, his top-notch battle buddy, and honor his distinguished career. While Fergus has a considerable cape to fill, this young, exuberant pup is ready to pick up duties where Argon the GOAT has slowed down and utilize advancements in training to help his team take it to the next level. With firm and steady command and a heaping dose of tickled surprise, Tyson already has his rookie picking up dropped items, and he plans to leave PTSD in the dust as Fergus provides the grounding and support needed to travel to destinations unknown (like Disney World with his family).
Congratulations to all our amazing Fall 2020 grads! On behalf of everyone at FSD, we are incredibly proud of you, and we can’t wait to hear about the new possibilities that open up in your lives, with your Freedom Service Dog at your side.