The wonders of service dogs

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
On March 5, the Lippert family of Grove City (pictured from left to right are Charlie, Katie and Pam, with Katie’s service dog Molly in front) participated in a special presentation at the Grove City Library that focused on the wonders of service animals. In addition to sharing their story, human volunteers with the 4 Paws for Ability at Ohio State chapter brought service dogs-in-training with them as they learn socialization skills. The program, which was hosted by the Friends of the Southwest Public Libraries’ special events committee, will also be held at the Westland Area Library on April 23 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. To register for the event, call 614-878-1301 ext. 602.
Ohio State 4 Paws volunteers (pictured left to right) Olivia Zinnen, Addie Colclasure, Addie Parkov, and Emily Hamilton pose with future service dogs Hound, Fargo, Morty and Dino. For the last several months, these Ohio State University students have been helping 4 Paws socialize the animals for future service.
Liam Ellcessor, 11, gets a big kiss from Starlet. Joyce Cassady, Starlet’s primary caretaker during this portion of her training phase, said she will be going in for evaluation at the end of the month. Should she pass, Starlet will go on to more advanced training at the 4 Paws facility in Xenia. Cassady, a resident of Mount Sterling, has been volunteering with 4 Paws for eight years.
Morticia (aka Morty), loves the camera. Eventually, she will come to enjoy other jobs besides modelling.

It is not uncommon for young pups to have bouts of diarrhea, but Addie Colclasure was certain that her dog’s colon had become possessed.

On the hour, every hour at night, it was like a switch had activated: Fargo would jostle around in his bed, letting the barely slumbering college student know that it was time to go. Quickly, she would throw on whatever pair of foot coverings were on the ground, grab his leash, and lead him out of the dorms to do his business.

These escapades occurred frequently for months – veterinarians assured Colclasure that Fargo had some “colon issues” but was otherwise a healthy Golden Retriever/Newfoundland mix – and yet she somehow maintained her sanity, and a good grade point average to boot.

“It was a close call,” joked the freshman at The Ohio State University.

She said what helped get her through this challenging phase of her dog’s life was not just the unconditional love she felt for him, but also the factual reminder that this inconvenience would be for the greater good of humanity.

An example of that “greater good” played out recently in Grove City.

It was March 5 and the local library was hosting an event about the power of service animals. As a volunteer with the university’s student organization that partners with the Xenia-based non-profit 4 Paws for Ability, Colclasure was there with Fargo and a few other fellow service dogs-in-training and their human charges.

The mission was to discuss the process of how a pup becomes a fully realized service dog but a live demonstration of their impact stole the show.

Pam Lippert was in distress.

The fists of the Grove City resident were tucked in a ball near her chin, shaking. Unsteady on her feet, it looked like she was ready to fall into the chairs stacked behind her. The service dogs-in-training were alert, uncertain how to respond, but only one knew exactly what to do.

Molly, a 4-year-old Golden Lab who is normally quiet and laid-back, immediately got up and rushed to Pam’s side. Her bushy tail wagging furiously, she chuffed and barked until human assistance arrived.

As Pam sat there in the chair after the episode, Molly nuzzled her hands, offering comfort as she came down from this stressful time.

To be clear, Pam was not in any real danger. She immediately shook off the effects and told Molly what a good girl she was. She may have even slipped her a yummy treat or two.
Pam explained to the crowd of impressed onlookers that this is a game she, her husband Charlie, and their daughter Katie play with their dog. Should they cease to do so, it could prove to be deadly.

Since Katie was an infant, she has suffered from seizures. At first, it was barely noticeable – “it looked almost like a hiccup,” Pam said. “Her shoulders would go down and her head would drop” – but they got progressively worse as she aged.

Diagnosed with a rare type of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, the Lippert’s tried strict ketogenic diets and any medication that the doctors would recommend.

At first, the combination seemed to help but eventually their effectiveness wore off.

“She would have what we called a “honeymoon phase,” Charlie said. “Katie would respond well to these medications for a while and then the honeymoon would wear off.”

Not knowing where else to turn, Pam jokingly asked her hairdresser for advice. She gave them a solid tip: search for a service dog.

“I had never heard of such a thing before she made that suggestion,” said Pam, “but we were willing to do just about anything that would help improve Katie’s quality of life.”

The Lippert’s eventually found 4 Paws for Ability and proceeded to request that a service dog be specifically trained to detect Katie’s seizures. They sent Katie’s clothing pre and post seizure, filled out “mounds” of paperwork on their likes, dislikes, daily activities, and raised some serious funds to offset the training costs.

In 2002, when Katie was about 11 years old, Cody came into their lives. Though Katie’s seizures had lessened some – Charlie joked that he was a “seizure prevention dog rather than a seizure detection dog” – Cody would monitor her activity and alert her family to any changes in her behavior or smell.

For nearly six years, he was Katie’s dutiful companion, helping the happy but very shy girl make friends in and out of school. When Cody died from cancer, Hudson came into their lives and proceeded to fill the role of his predecessor. Hudson was there when Katie graduated from Central Crossing in 2013, Hudson was there to pull off the covers when Katie had seizures at night, and he was there to serve as another dutiful companion.

When he passed of cancer in 2019, the Lippert’s seriously wondered if they should get another service dog, especially since it appeared that Katie’s seizures were under control.

“We would ask ourselves if it was worth the heartbreak,” said Charlie. “It is so tough to lose a beloved animal, especially one that provides such a service to your daughter. They have made her life exponentially better, and they have been such a peace of mind for us.”

Pam and Charlie do not know if it was Katie’s sadness at the loss of Hudson but they started to notice an uptick in the number of her seizures soon thereafter.

Since they had such success with 4 Paws, they reached out again to apply for a service dog. The local community helped them fundraise thousands of dollars to cover most of the cost of the extensive two-year training process.

In 2020, Molly arrived, much to Katie’s delight.

“Spoiled,” is how Katie, now 31, describes her. And loyal.

For the most part, Molly does not like for the spotlight to be on her. She would much rather focus on her humans and their well-being.

But she will, on occasion, step in to serve as a role model for a new generation of potential service dogs, much like she did at the event at the library. She knew that all eyes were on her and her family – that is exactly where she wanted them to be.

Colclasure said hearing stories like theirs and watching service dogs at work is like an affirmation for her and her fellow volunteers: it is an affirmation that the months of basic training and socialization are worth it, it is an affirmation that what they are doing will make an impact. It is an affirmation that it will be okay to let the pups go when they move back to Xenia for more advanced training, and it is an affirmation that their charges will go on to better the life of someone in need.

“There have been times, like when Fargo had diarrhea for months, where it’s just like ‘Man, I really don’t want you right now, I want to tap out of this program,’” she said. “But I love him to death and I would do it all over again if it meant that he is going to be a great service dog one day.

“I know in my heart that, when the time comes, he will be ready.”

The Friends of the Southwest Public Libraries’ special events committee hosted the service dog special event in Grove City on March 5. Chair Carol Rorick said their objective was for the program to be “educational, inspirational, and fun for the whole family.”

“I think they succeeded,” she said, mentioning that she and her fellow committee members have plans to go to Xenia to check out the program.

The Westland Area Library will be hosting another 4 Paws for Ability at Ohio State presentation on Saturday, April 23 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Participants will learn about both organizations, meet the dogs, do activities, and likely mull becoming a foster for budding service animals.

To register for the April 23 presentation, call 614-878-1301 ext. 602. To inquire about becoming a 4 Paws volunteer, visit their website at www.4pawsforability.org.

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