On Saturday, Jan. 29, Jordyn’s parents took her to the Goodwill Assistance Dog Academy in downtown Chatta-nooga to meet a special new friend named “Eddie” (after Goodwill founder Edgar Helm).
Eddie is a two-year-old golden retriever service dog who will be attending school with Jordyn in the spring. Jor-dyn will be the first student in Catoosa County to attend school with a service animal.
Now confined to a wheelchair after a “spine fusing” surgery, Jordyn was a perfect candidate for the Goodwill Assistance program.
Upon the insistence of a physical therapist, the Millers attended “GoFest” this past October, a special day at the Chattanooga Zoo established to raise disability awareness. There they met Goodwill program director Ramona Nichols, who encouraged them to go through the process to obtain a service dog.
Joey Miller, Jordyn’s mother, said she was ecstatic when she got the call with news that Jordyn had been matched with a dog.
“I was so excited and so relieved when I got the call,” said Miller. “I didn’t know how I was going to tell Jordyn ‘no’ after she had gotten so excited about everything. If they had told us no, we would’ve had to wait two years for them to train another dog. She was praying night and day.”
According to Goodwill Industries, it costs approximately $25,000 and takes two years to train an assistance dog. So few trained assistance dogs are available that only one percent of Americans who need an assistance dog cur-rently have them. To address this need, Chattanooga Goodwill Industries created the Goodwill Assistance Dog Academy to train and provide assistance dogs free of charge to southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia resi-dents who have physical disabilities. During their two-year training, each dog learns more than 90 commands and performs skills such as opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, retrieving dropped or needed items and pulling wheelchairs.
Jordyn, who was born with muscular dystrophy, was also diagnosed with scoliosis in the third grade and under-went surgery in May 2008 that fused her spine from neck to hips. Mrs. Miller said Jordyn will be in a wheel chair for quite some time, but is expected to eventually walk again in the future.
Jordyn will be attending a two-week training period with Eddie in April. The first week will be a type of seminar where she will attend lecture classes and learn commands and the second is for “field trips” to places such as the mall, movies and other public places. After the training session, a trainer will attend school with the “pair” to help them get acclimated to the new environment.
Jordyn won’t be the only one benefiting from the new situation. Miller said having Eddie would bring her a new-found sense of peace and relief as a parent of a disabled child. Because of the fusing surgery, Jordyn’s back doesn’t bend, so most types of mobility such as picking items off the floor are impossible, which has often made Miller worry.
“The biggest thing for me for thirteen years has been this fear that she would need me and couldn’t get to me,” said Miller regarding her daughter’s condition. “Even when I go upstairs to get on the treadmill, I give her the cell phone and the house phone, but I still worry she’ll drop them or something will happen. This is going to give me such amazing peace of mind. She’ll be able to get an immediate response if she needs anything.”
Although it will be peace of mind for her, Miller is thrilled for Jordyn and the freedom it will give her on a daily basis and for life in general.
“She’s always been very well adjusted,” said Miller of her daughter, “but this will just bring her an extra boost of added confidence. She’s such an animal lover too, so I know Eddie will bring her a lot of joy as well.”
To add your name to the waiting list for an assistance dog, e-mail your completed application to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax it to 423-242-0594.
Goodwill Assistance Dog Academy
3500 Dodds Ave.
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37407
423-629-2501, ext. 2590
Ramona Nichols, program director, email@example.com