McLaren Hospice and Homecare Foundation helps sponsor service dog

At McLaren Homecare Group, we understand our employees go above and beyond each day for our patients. As part of giving back to our community and to our employees, the McLaren Hospice and Homecare Foundation recently had the opportunity to help sponsor a service dog for the daughter of Shawn Knowles-Bell, our Homecare Manager in Port Huron.

Last summer, Shawn's daughter Alexis began searching for help coping with her PTSD, and was excited to find information on the effectiveness of service animals for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alexis evaluated the numerous medical service dog pairing organizations available, narrowing down her top choice to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs based in Williston, Florida.

Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs primarily pairs service dogs to military veterans, but also pairs dogs with non-veterans. Alexis completed an application for a service dog last summer, and was placed on a waiting list. While wait time for non-veterans to be paired is typically four to six years, Alexis learned that she would be paired with a service dog on July 5 of this year - 12 months later. On July 20, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs flew Shawn and Alexis to Florida to be paired with Alexis' dog, Posey. 

Shawn described the experience when they arrived at the farm where the service dogs are raised and trained: "The chairs were lined up and they had our names and Posey's name. One by one, they brought out the dogs to be paired with their owners, and Alexis and Posey immediately bonded. Even the trainers were surprised how quickly they took to each other!"

"We were there for 10 days and did training with Posey. We visited a lot of shopping malls, restaurants, and even took her to the movies a couple of times. There was a lot of public access for practice." Under the American Disabilities Act, service animals are permitted to go wherever their owner goes. "Posey is with Alexis 24 hours a day. Wherever Alexis goes, Posey goes too. They are two peas in a pod." 

Medical service dogs are trained for one to two years, and are skilled at both recognizing and interrupting indicators of anxiety and panic attacks. Posey is trained to identify body language and scent, and will wake Alexis up from nightmares. She senses when Alexis is anxious and distracts her from her triggers, and provides her a barrier in crowded areas.

Since Alexis has been paired with Posey, her life has drastically changed. Prior to being matched with Posey, Alexis could have several attacks a month. Alexis has not yet had a panic attack since Posey has become part of her everyday life. Shawn said of her progress, "I feel like I have my child back! She's happy, she sings and jokes around. She's a kid, she's a teenager."

Alexis is now able to spend more time away from home - time with friends, as well as her boyfriend. She now has the possibility of attending college, something that may not have been possible for her prior to her pairing with Posey.

Said Shawn of her experience, "I hope to someday help Guardian Angels because I have seen the miracles they have worked, not just for Alexis, but with the other recipients as well. Guardian Angels saves lives. They saved my daughter's life."