For the first time in about 13 years, Maya Mullis can sleep in her own bed.
For the first time in 14 years, Rebecca Amick said she feels truly alive; she gets out of her house and faces the world.
Bethany Clark’s young physical therapy patients are learning to walk and control emotions, Robert Powell is ministering to the disabled and Dennis Price has found his way out of one of the darkest times in his life.
All of this is possible thanks to newly trained service dogs.
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Abbe, Stanley, Chiver, Chief, Cookie, Shack and Joyce proudly and obediently walked across the PAALS graduation stage Saturday, ready to take on new lives – and change the lives of their new families.
“Everything about life has changed for us” since Abbe the black lab came into their family, said Ginny Mullis, Maya’s mother. “When this dog was born, God 100 percent had a purpose for her, and it was for us.”
Teenaged Maya has autism. She is bubbly and talkative but fears being alone and struggles being out in public.
Abbe has changed the way the Mullis family lives their lives, from being able to eat out in public to Maya finally feeling comfortable alone in her own bed. Abbe lays on Maya to calm her down, reminds her not to run away when she gets scared and gives her confidence to meet new people.
“Abbe loves me,” Maya said.
PAALS, or Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, raises puppies into mature dogs trained to serve children and adults with a variety of physical and social needs. Its graduating class of seven Saturday, all donning purple graduation caps – behind their ears, of course – was the largest in its nearly 10 years of service.
Some past graduates attended as well, including University of South Carolina student Jory Fleming, who recently was named a Rhodes Scholar, and his dog Daisy.
The new people-and-service dog teams are beginning to walk through life together facing challenges from autism to mobility to post-traumatic stress disorder. The dogs already have been with their families for a little while. Saturday marked the end of their training as a team.
Living with PTSD, Amick battles hallucinations and fear. For years, she has been afraid of being in public.
But with Stanley beside her, she has found the confidence to shop in a crowded store and even accompany her mother to a chaotic emergency room.
“My quality of life has improved. Stanley’s helping me be more active in the community,” she said. “He shows me the goofy side – the Stanley side – of life.”
War veteran Price was injured by a suicide bomb 10 years ago in Iraq, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
He found himself “in the darkest place I’d ever been in my life” before he and his black lab, Cookie, became a team.
“She’s my blessing,” Price said, Cookie resting calmly and attentively by his side. “She just keeps me serene.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.