My name is Payton, I am 18 years old, and I was recently partnered with the most handsome, loyal, and all around amazing golden retriever, Whitt. At five years old, I was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disorder known as Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT) which makes the muscles in my hands, legs, and feet weaker. In turn, activities such as walking, balancing, stairs, or anything else that requires strength or balance is difficult for me.
Growing up, I have been lucky to have great friends, teachers, and family willing to help me with these activities. However, as I got older and closer to college, I wanted to be more independent. After some research, my parents and I decided that a service dog would be a good fit. I have only had Whitt for a few months, but he has already made a world of a difference for me.
Having Whitt by my side gives me more confidence to explore and expand my comfort zone. He may not cure my CMT, but he does eliminate some of the barriers it creates and allows me to participate more in life. I wanted to share just a few stories of how he has already done this:
At the end of every year, my high school has an event called "Field Day." This is a day in which the whole school spends time on the sports fields watching and participating in athletic activities. However, because of the uneven, hilly terrain of the fields and my bad balance, for my first three years of high school, I was unable to participate. However, this changed when I got Whitt. Whitt is able to help me with my balance via a harness. Because of him, I was able to participate in my senior year Field Day and had a blast. It was the first time I had ever been on the fields without holding on to my friends or family for support. It felt incredible to be independent and able to hang out with my friends and participate in an activity I never thought possible. I couldn't have done it without him; Whitt was absolutely incredible! He ignored all the balls being thrown and the many sounds and smells and focused on helping me! He sure got a lot of ball play after that day!
In addition to helping me navigate Field Day, Whitt also assisted me at my high school graduation ceremony. At the commencement, students receive their diplomas and then carry it up and down the stairs to the stage multiple times. However, since holding the handrail and/or Whitt is essential for me when navigating stairs, also holding the diploma would make this activity difficult. Before I got Whitt I would have had to rely on a classmate or teacher to carry this for me. However, Whitt was more than happy to do this job and allowed me to feel confident, independent, and less nervous. Plus, he looked SO handsome in his tie and cuff links! :-)
These are just a couple examples of the amazing difference Whitt has made thus far. Everyday, I discover new activities I never thought I would be able to participate in. A couple weeks ago, I climbed my first set of stairs without railings. I used to worry about going to new places for fear of encountering stairs without rails or uneven ground. Now, I don't hesitate when given an opportunity to visit somewhere new because I know that whatever physical obstacles I encounter, I have him by my side to help. But above all the physical assistance Whitt provides, I am so thankful for his companionship. I have never been a morning person, but I wake up everyday excited to get Whitt out of his kennel to play with and love on him. Whitt and I have a special relationship and I can't wait to see it continue to grow stronger as time passes. I'm excited about our future adventures together and can't wait to experience life with him by my side.