Kim & McGee
McGee, a 2-year-old white Labrador, has started his service dog career in Juneau, Alaska—the first Freedom Service Dog to work in that far-flung state. McGee was matched with his client, Kim, in March 2018, and within three days, Kim and her husband, Norm, were at FSD headquarters in Englewood, Colorado, meeting their new furry family member.
Kim has mobility issues related to diabetic neuropathy and arthritis, along with other medical conditions, including congestive heart failure and sleep apnea. She typically uses an electric wheelchair to get around, although she walks with a cane at times and has difficulty picking up her cane and other items when she drops them. Kim uses a BiPAP machine at night to relieve her sleep apnea and has had to rely on Norm to turn the machine on—a problematic situation since Norm’s long hours as a hot-dog vendor at Juneau’s cruise-ship docks mean she has to wait to go to bed until he gets home, often late at night.
Relying on other people didn’t set well with Kim, who was used to being active and independent when her health was better. After learning that a service dog might be able to assist her, Kim decided to pursue getting one. Unfortunately, she endured two “nightmare placements”—one with an agency and one with a private trainer—before finding Freedom Service Dogs.
Says Kim, “I didn’t know that accreditation existed before Freedom Service Dogs, but after my first two experiences, I realized how important it was that FSD was accredited by Assistance Dogs International. It means that someone is looking at the organization and requiring high standards, so you know it’s not a fly-by-night kind of place. Freedom Service Dogs was everything I had been hoping for.”
Kim was on our waiting list for two-and-a-half years before being matched with McGee because her needs were extensive. She wanted a dog that could not only assist with her mobility issues, but also push elevator buttons, open drawers, pick up dropped items, tug her socks off, retrieve the phone in an emergency, and turn on her BiPAP machine.
The couple bonded with McGee during their two-week placement class at FSD in April, when they learned about basic commands, dog behavior, dog nutrition and health care, and much more. “McGee is intelligent, has a real good personality, and is very funny, and the placement class was above and beyond my expectations,” says Kim. “I love how well the dogs are taken care of at FSD. The trainers know each dog’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they like to eat and play with. And the facility is so clean!”
In mid-May, FSD trainer Allison Peltier flew to Juneau to spend time with Kim, Norm, and McGee in their home. Like our service dogs, the home visit is provided free of charge to all FSD clients, regardless of their location, and is vital to ensuring the dog is settling in and working effectively in the new environment.
Says Kim, “I’ve been dependent on someone else for five years now, and it’s been hard. My goal with McGee is to be independent and not have to take someone everywhere I go. And also to be able to go to bed when I want to!”
Adds Norm, “McGee is a wonderful dog. Having McGee be with Kim will free up more of my time for my business, and it will also reduce my stress and help me feel more secure about her being home alone. “
Kim says she would tell others considering getting a service dog to “absolutely do it! At first, I was concerned about the distance to Colorado, but it was worth every penny of the travel fees to make the trip there. I don’t feel like a number at FSD; I feel very supported.”
This team is sponsored by PetSmart Charities.