Guest post by Gwen Wenger. Gwen, her husband Keith, and her daughter Emma have been volunteering with SSD in many ways for the past three years. Emma is partnered with SSD Kindle.
My husband, Keith, and I have a beautiful 12-year-old daughter, named Emma, with a very rare seizure syndrome from birth. Emma has multiple disabilities. She does not walk or speak. When she was 9, we decided that a service dog would be a wonderful way to help her in so many ways. We put in an application with Susquehanna Service Dogs in the spring of 2012 and began an amazing journey with an organization we now call our second family.
While we were waiting for the “meet the dogs” call that would mean Emma would hopefully meet her potential partner, we decided to volunteer with SSD. We started out as puppy huggers, which is just about the best job in the world. It was amazing to watch Emma interact with these little lab puppies.
After hugging many litters, we decided we wanted to do more. SSD can always use sitters to give raisers a break. To be a sitter, we needed to attend clicker training and orientation. This was a perfect way not only to start practicing how to handle a service dog, but also to make sure that Emma liked dogs. We had so much fun at the training classes and visiting puppy classes that we couldn’t wait to be approved to start sitting.
We had the chance to sit 15 different dogs in 8 months. It was during this time that we got the anticipated phone call that they wanted Emma to attend a “meet the dogs” session. Emma met two dogs that day in July 2013, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that SSD Kindle was the dog for our daughter. She immediately went to Emma and began licking her and interacting with her. Emma responded immediately to Kindle. The session ended with Kindle sitting beside Emma and Emma’s feet propped up on Kindle’s back. The amazing staff at SSD had told us the dog will pick the human as much as the human picks the dog. Boy, were they right! I still get goosebumps when I think about that moment when Kindle chose Emma to be her girl.
We went through team training that fall, and Kindle came home with us. She and Emma have been a team now for a year and a half, and their bond only continues to grow. Kindle goes everywhere with Emma, including school. She is a companion, a comforter, a helper, and an amazing motivator. Emma will now walk long distances in her gait trainer to follow her dog up and down the hall. Before Kindle, Emma’s physical therapist was having trouble getting Emma to take more than a few steps. This is just one of many, many ways that Kindle has helped Emma to become more independent. Emma is a happier and more content little girl with her new 4-legged best friend. She is also, without a doubt, the most popular little girl at ELCO Intermediate School.
After Emma and Kindle had the standard 6-month bonding period, we were able to start volunteering again with SSD. Last summer, we whelped a litter of newborn SSD pups. GEB Talent (from Guiding Eyes for the Blind) had her first litter in June 2014. She and her 7 pups lived with us all summer. Wow! What an amazing experience! We even got to name the litter. They were the “C” litter. So if you know SSD Clementine, SSD Charcoal, SSD Colorado, or SSD Cookie Dough, then you have met our grandpuppies! The other three were sent to other amazing service dog organizations in Florida and Canada.
Currently, we are housing an SSD breeder dog, SSD Berlin, from the Country Capitals Litter. When she’s pregnant, she leaves us and comes back when her puppies are weaned. She and Kindle are like sisters, and she has been an amazing addition to our family.
We have served on committees for SSD fundraisers, attended numerous events for SSD, and taken every opportunity we can in public to share our story and encourage support for this amazing, life-changing organization. We count our blessings every day and there is no doubt that Kindle and SSD are at the top of that list!
Why do we walk in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community? We want to support and help raise money for the organization that has given us so much and allowed us to give back in return. We’ll see you Saturday, May 16!
Want to join Gwen, Keith, Emma, and Kindle in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community? Sign up today!
Saturday, May 16
On-site registration starts at 7:45 a.m.
5K Walk begins at 9 a.m.
One-Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.
Harrisburg Area Community College
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110
RegistrationSign up for the walk