Kathie and Merlin
If you can’t imagine the feeling of looking out your window and seeing the bright sunshine, knowing that your body is no longer capable of going for a walk, count yourself lucky.
Kathie McDonald lived like that for years. As a nurse working part time at Health Link, her life consisted of getting to and from work and not much else. Kathie suffered multiple head injuries in childhood that left her without visual depth perception or a sense of balance. The chance of tripping and falling made it impossible for her to walk on grass or sand and too dangerous to walk on sidewalks or pavement. Things had been a bit easier when she was younger, but as she aged the problems worsened.
A friend from work mentioned that Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society had a program that trained dogs to help with balance and mobility. It took a year of considering before Kathie decided to look into it and apply.
On October 25, 2013, Kathie graduated from team training with DWW Merlin. Since that day they have been nearly attached at the hip. Kathie remembers her first walk at an off-leash area the week after she brought Merlin home. They walked for hours. It was the first time in many years that Kathie had been in a park.
Merlin is fitted with a special rigid harness that Kathie holds while they are walking. Acting as her eyes, he stops at every change in elevation, a curb, stair or tree root, and waits for Kathie to move forward. When she starts to lose balance, Merlin braces and helps prevent Kathie from falling, or if she has too much momentum, his harness allows her to control the fall to avoid injury. Kathie is now so comfortable walking that she gave up her car and travels most everywhere on foot with Merlin by her side.
Merlin has changed Kathie’s life in many ways. After years of living a reclusive life, Merlin provided a level of companionship that Kathie never expected. She describes his personality as “a bit of a wuss, extremely loving and needing lots of affection.” More than that, he has brought people into her life. “I never have a day that I don’t see a smile on someone’s face.” Kathie was at first surprised by how many people stopped to ask about Merlin, now she takes it in stride, confident that her team training prepared her to answer any questions.
Kathie knows how much goes into training an assistance dog and has tremendous respect and appreciation for all the people involved in giving Merlin to her. She keeps in touch with his volunteer raisers, sending them pictures and updates. Although arthritis is now creeping in and adding to her mobility challenges, she still says, “I am so blessed and I look at him every day and am amazed at how lucky I am. Such a gift.”