ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A service dog trained by West Virginia prison inmates has received an honorary diploma for accompanying his owner through class and field work as she earned a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
Brittany Hawley of Wilson, North Carolina, said Monday that her 4-year-old golden retriever Griffin worked right along with her as she assisted patients during internships. And he attended every class with her at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Albany.
“I pushed for him to graduate from day one,” Hawley said. “He did everything I did.”
While Hawley won’t get her diploma until next month, Griffin was awarded an honorary diploma at Clarkson over the weekend. The board of trustees said he demonstrated “extraordinary effort, steadfast commitment and diligent dedication to the well-being and student success” of Hawley.
Hawley, 25, uses a wheelchair and has chronic pain. She said Griffin does a wide range of physical tasks for her including opening doors, turning on lights and bringing her items she indicates with a laser pointer. But perhaps more important is the emotional comfort he provides.
“The main reason I got Griffin was I wanted to commit suicide and my out was finding a dog that could help me,” Hawley said, explaining that relentless, severe pain causes depression and anxiety. “I used my mobility problems to apply for a service dog.”
Hawley got Griffin through “paws4prisons,” a program that teaches inmates at West Virginia prisons to train and place high-level assistance dogs.
“The inmates allow many dogs to come up to you and let the dog choose you,” Hawley said. “Some dogs were scared of the wheelchair. Griffin jumped right into my lap and licked me across the face.”
Hawley and Griffin worked at Fort Bragg in North Carolina during an internship, helping soldiers with mobility impairments as well as psycho-social disorders. Brushing a dog can help improve a patient’s range of motion, and stroking him helps ease anxiety, Hawley said.
“My patients would say, ‘My therapist today is Brittany and Griffin,'” she said.
When she applies for jobs, she and Griffin will be a package deal, Hawley said.
“I couldn’t participate in anything without him,” she said. “I’m so used to him being there.”
Photo via Clarkson University.
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