When Sarah entered the tenth grade, she began thinking about her future after high school. Like most sophomores she considered her future vocation, and the pros and cons of living at home versus away in a dorm. But Sarah had additional considerations, given that she would need to make these dreams come true from her wheelchair. Over the years, her facilitated service dog, Allie, had helped her make many dreams come true, but as she thought about the new physical barriers she would need to overcome, Sarah came to the bittersweet conclusion that she would need to retire her current dog, Allie, and train with a new helpmate.
Sarah has fond memories of her first “boot camp” at NEADS — many of which revolve around her training with Dan Oulette. Not long after Dan became a NEADS assistance dog trainer, it became apparent that his calling was the kids. With his silly, ice-breaking games and teasing, Dan made Sarah and her beloved first dog, Allie, a true team. A golden retriever, with a gregarious personality and a soft heart, Allie was perfect for this driven girl – a true match, with her own long, golden hair and spunky personality. They became smitten with each other. As with most facilitated dogs, Allie did not attend school, but waited patiently for Sarah’s return each afternoon. She saw Sarah through rocky family times and the inevitable transition from childhood to adolescence. As the years went by, Allie also changed — to an older, mellower girl, who sometimes preferred the quiet corner of the couch to another ride in the van. She bonded with Sarah’s mom during their time together, and in her golden years, this sweet-faced pup, became less of an assistance dog and more of a family pet.
Sarah and her mom had done a lot of thinking before they reapplied to NEADS for her second dog. One thing they realized was that Sarah no longer needed to be in a facilitated team. Although Allie was a wonderful friend, Sarah now needed more of a helpmate…
Sure enough, upon meeting Ballou, the first thing you realize is that this is a dog with a purpose in life! A dog that shuns the comfy spot on the rug for a job that involves a cape, a serious task, and a place next to a beloved person who just happens to be sitting in a chair with wheels. Because Ballou is not facilitated, he goes where Sarah goes. She is responsible for him, just as he is for her. For Ballou, that means full days of school and weekends of church, friends, and typical teen hangouts all summer. For Sarah, it means feeding, walks, grooming, and all the “ga-zillions” of other things that play into such a responsibility. Any explaining comes from Sarah — including polite education of her classmates not to pet without asking. Ballou might give a friendly greeting — who knows, even a little kiss — but then he is immediately back by Sarah’s side, letting the world know, this is his task in life.
And all of this might just come in handy for Sarah’s future… You see, after considering her own passions, she decided that dogs just had to be a part of her adult life. She considered vet school, but decided it was animals that she loved, not their diseases. Perhaps she would take up a primary career in another field and work with animals as a cherished hobby? Well, during her second training she hit on it! With her personal experience, her gift of communication (with both humans and dogs) and her natural training abilities, Sarah hopes to someday become an assistance dog trainer. As Sarah and her mom describe plans for the future with great excitement, you can only imagine the look of great pride that comes over old Allie’s face, as she sees what the future holds for the special young woman her cherished little girl has become.