We all know how Facebook newsfeeds go. It’s a mix of daily “here’s what I’m having for breakfast” updates, with “I just checked in here” posts … that all kind of blend together. But back in the Fall, a particular post stood out to me and made me stop my scroll in its tracks.
It was a picture of this sweet little girl in glasses with this huge, joyful smile that was impossible to miss. And as I read further, I saw that her photo was associated with a fundraiser that my friend was hosting to raise money for a local Cleveland non-profit called WAGS 4 Kids… an organization which is dedicated to placing mobility service and skilled companion dogs with children in Ohio with disabilities.
When I reached out to my friend to learn more, I found out that the smile in that picture belonged to that of her niece Morgan – who, at a very young age, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (a cancer of the eye) which can cause deterioration of vision (To read Morgan’s full story … click here). And she told me that WAGS was working with Morgan and her family to place a dog that could help be her daily companion.
I was immediately touched. I thought… what an incredible thing that this organization does to bring these amazing animals together with kids like Morgan who need them… and what a special group of people who must be behind it. And I also imagined what a special moment it was going to be when their new dog became a part of their family… so after talking with my friend and Morgan’s Mom … we decided to set up a time for us to get together so I could capture some images that would help this family remember forever these first weeks with their dog, Howie, in their home.
When Morgan’s Mom opened the door to greet me, I was also welcomed by this sweet, four-legged Golden Retriever. And just like any other dog – to him, a new guest in the house was a BIG DEAL – and he made me feel like it! 🙂
But it didn’t take me long to realize that Howie was not even close to being just “any other dog” – Howie had a purpose and a mission – to be a very special companion for Morgan, her little brother Colin … and the entire family.
When I got into the living room, that beautiful bright smile of Morgan’s that initially stopped me in my tracks when I saw it on Facebook … was shining right in front of me. The only word I can describe her demeanor with is “joyful.” This little girl EXUDES joy. To the point where, had I not known about Morgan’s story – I would have no idea that Morgan was visually impaired. Because SHE doesn’t go about her life like she has a disability. Her family describes her an “independent”, “happy-go-lucky” little girl who is always asking to do things… and never saying she “doesn’t” want to do something because she can’t see. She goes about it with the joyful, sweet spirit of a 6-year-old…
Not to mention her fun-spirited little brother who, although hiding shyly behind a couch, couldn’t help but peek out with a little smile and giggle at me as he tried to figure out who the heck I was!
After we took our time to get to know each other, Morgan took me into their mudroom (built by Dad by the way!) to show me how she puts Howie’s service dog “gear” on him. Watching it was so awesome – Howie sat there and KNEW exactly what was going on… and patiently waited as Morgan executed her newly-learned task of putting on his (very chic) WAGS 4 Kids service dog garb.
Throughout this process, I have learned that there are many great things about WAGS… but one of them – as Morgan’s family points out – is their personalized attention throughout the whole process of matching a dog with a family. From the beginning, WAGS works with the families to truly get to know them and understand their child’s needs so that they could find a dog who is a good match specifically for them.
And for Howie – his real role in Morgan’s life is to be a companion and give her the ability to go through her daily life with the confidence that someone is always there beside her. And while WAGS takes a lot of time on the front end preparing for these matches, their attention doesn’t stop there as they continue to make themselves accessible by phone, text, email and visits to these families as they go through the transition of welcoming a service dog into their home.
Because of that care from WAGS, Howie has been able to make an instant impact on this family. Morgan’s Mom shared with me that just prior to Howie coming into their lives, Morgan was starting to lose her sense of independence a bit and was hesitant to go anywhere by herself. Now with Howie, she confidently goes from room to room in the house and Morgan always knows that her four-legged friend is right there at her side. Whether he’s sitting at her feet when she brushes her teeth at night, being beside her as she walks down stairs, or taking a snooze near her feet in the living room while she plays … Howie knows where he is supposed to be.
And while there’s no doubt that Howie and Morgan have built a bond – it is just as evident that Howie has made an impact on the entire family. And it’s just an added bonus that Howie has also provided an avenue for Mom and Dad to teach their children about responsibility in making sure that Howie’s daily needs are taken care of too. But most importantly, Howie is considered part of the family now .. and has brought a lot of his own love and joy into an already tight-knit clan…
Meeting Morgan and her family was truly a great way to spend a day. Not only seeing a team of family members who choose to focus on the joy and love in their lives amidst any challenges they face… but experiencing in person what an incredible thing that WAGS 4 Kids provides to local families here in NE Ohio.
I encourage you all to check out WAGS 4 Kids on the web at http://www.wags4kids.org to learn more about them and how you can help make an impact on their efforts.
Because… of all the cool tricks that these WAGS 4 Kids animals can do….
Nothing compares to their ability to change lives….