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Pope family member receives canine life saver

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kate Wetherby
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
They have been living with human beings for thousands of years, providing companionship and protecting us from predators; part of the reason they are called "man's best friend." There is no doubt that canines have impacted mankind, but for one family member here, the relationship between man and animal goes beyond the average family pet, her canine is a life-saver.

Gabriella "Gabby" Thayer, daughter of Lisa and Master Sgt. (Ret.) Kenneth Thayer, recently received a gift that would change her life; an assistant canine to help her cope with the challenges of living with her disabilities.

According to her parents, Gabby received a traumatic birth injury to her brain when she was born. She has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy and a seizure disorder. Her seizures occur during sleep and can last for more than an hour. When she has a bad seizure, she usually ends up in the Intensive Care Unit because of possible respiratory failure. Because her seizures are unpredictable, she was unable to sleep alone and qualified for a service dog.

Gabriella was officially welcomed into the Canine Assistants family during a special donation ceremony on Fort Bragg on March 31. Gabby went to a two week Canine Assistants camp in early November to learn about the dog's special relationship to humans, the training the dogs go through and how to continue training her dog once she was matched. She was also taught general canine care.

"During camp, Gabby met 16 potential service dogs and worked with four over several days before Flint picked her," said Mrs. Thayer. "As a dog lover, Gabby is thrilled to meet any canine. She was a bit overwhelmed with meeting so many dogs at once. It wasn't until they tried taking Flint away that she realized he was the one for her.

"Flint refused to leave Gabby's side," explained Mrs. Thayer. "It was at that moment that Gabby felt she was incredibly special."

Mrs. Thayer added that Canine Assistants believes that the bond formed between animal and recipient is what truly makes the match work. After seeing the bond Gabby and Flint have, her family agreed whole heartily.

With Gabby's new-found independence, she now has the luxury of sleeping in her own bed while Flint watches close by.

"For the first time in eleven years of life, Gabby has gained the independence that most of us take for granted, namely being able to sleep in her own bed by herself," said Mrs. Thayer. "Flint not only provided this little piece of heaven for Gabby and our family, but has also given her more confidence. She may even be able to go on sleep-over's, summer camp and all the things that come with becoming a teenager."

Mrs. Thayer noted that Gabby's new responsibility to Flint significantly changed her daily routine.

"The first night home, Gabby was so excited to start her independence," said Mrs. Thayer. "She took her medicine without being told or nagged by mom, took Flint out to go potty, brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas and went to bed in her own bed, in her own room for the night. To know Gabby, this speaks volumes about the gift she realized she received by being blessed with her service dog."

Although the Thayer family received this blessing, there are more than 2,000 people on Canine Assistants waiting list. Along with the staggering list of hopefuls, it can cost up to $20,000 to train just one dog in their facilities.

"The process was long but worth it," said Mrs. Thayer. "Every Organization has their own guidelines for whom they will give a dog to. Canine Assistants is the third organization we applied to over the last four years. They are the most passionate, professional, organized and caring trainers of service dogs."

The Thayer's also reflected on the exceptional training and responsiveness of Flint, and the continued training Gabby does with him.

"Wherever Gabby goes, Flint follows," said Mr. Thayer. "They sleep together, do homework together, read books together, play video games together, and take walks together; they are inseparable. There is also a constant training process with Flint, to ensure that he listens to Gabby when she needs help the most."

When asked what Gabby's favorite thing about having Flint around, "It's nice to actually sleep by myself," she replied. "Flint is a good friend; he will never leave my side."