It's been said that a dog is man's best friend, but for one Wetzel County girl, her dog is much more. It could perhaps even be said that this special dog, very much a best friend, is also a lifesaver.
Kathy Smith said that at the time she discovered the service dog organization, 4 Paws for Ability, she was actually searching for a tracking dog for her daughter, Trinity, who has nonverbal autism. Smith said her daughter had a tendency to wander off. Little did Smith know, her search for a tracking dog would lead her to the organization 4 Paws for Ability. This organization led her to what she calls "a blessing," a beautiful golden retriever puppy with kind looking eyes-Tony.
4 Paws, headquartered in Xenia, Ohio, provides a variety of service dogs, including autism assistance dogs, seizure alert and response dogs, mobility assistance dogs, hearing ear/signal dogs, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder dogs, diabetic alert and response dogs, peanut allergy dogs, and multipurpose assistance dogs. The last covers multiple disabilities that can include Down Syndrome, Fragile X, Apraxia, ADHD, a variety of mental health diagnoses, medically frail children, and life threatening medical illnesses like cancer.
Pictured is what Kathy Smith calls “a match made in heaven” — Tony and Trinity Martie.
4 Paws has received national media attention on MSNBC, Dateline NBC, Animal Planet, Good Morning America, CNN, and in The New York Times, The Washington Post, People Magazine, USA Today, and Parent's Magazine. Karen Shirk, founder of 4 Paws, has been recognized as a 2008 CNN Hero as well as a 2009 DIRECTV Hometown Hero.
The service dogs are trained to help children and veterans live more independent lives so they can better contribute to society. 4 Paws prides themselves on being the founding agency of autism assistance dogs with tracking, as well as never turning a qualified family away.
It's also been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the photos of Tony and Trinity describe this story the best. Smith says that 4 Paws strives to match the dog with the personality of the child. It's obvious that Tony and Trinity are, as Smith says, "a match made in heaven." One photo Smith provided, a black and white one not pictured with the story, shows an angry Trinity after first meeting Tony. A second photo, taken just after the previous black and white one, shows Trinity with an expression similar to that of any other child playing with their pet. Smith says that this second photo was taken right after Tony licked Trinity on the face, usually something not allowed from a dog, especially a service dog. In this case though, Smith says that if Trinity is having a meltdown, she can tell Tony to "nuzzle" Trinity. "This turns a meltdown from 10 minutes to three seconds," Smith says. Smith adds that Tony is trained in tracking, tethering, and behavior disruption.
Tony is just a year old now, whereas Trinity is five. Trinity is currently in kindergarten and Smith anticipates sending Tony to school with her in the future, perhaps even next year. She credits Tony for increasing Trinity's quality of life, stating that her little girl is like "a different kid." Smith adds that Tony misses Trinity when she is at school. Despite the absences now though, it is obvious that this match made in heaven is on the right track to a bright future together.
The journey to bring Tony home was not as simple as just a phone call though.
Smith was required to fill out a lengthy application, receive a note from Trinity's doctor, and raise $13,000. After raising the necessary funds, Smith was then required to go to a training in Xena from Oct. 22-Nov. 2. The average cost of a service dog is actually $22,000, which includes food, training, housing, and veterinary care. However, 4 Paws supplements the $13,000 with gift in-kind donations, grants, annual appeals to past donors, cause related marketing, and other fund raising activities.
Smith credits several businesses with helping her on the journey to bring Tony home. The following businesses and organizations made cash donations to help: AEP Ohio (Kammer-Mitchell Plant), ACT Today, Bayer Heritage, Choo Choo's, Family Support Grant, Grisell Funeral Home, Immanuel Baptist Church, Jarvis Funeral Home, Lions Club of Pine Grove, Long Valley Baptist Church, Mike Certified Auto Repair LLC., Quota Club of New Martinsville, Sardis Tire, Wal-Mart (New Martinsville), and Roseland. Additionally, The Panic Attack, Slam 6 raised $1,015 at the Eagles Club in Paden City.
The following businesses made donations towards fund raisers: Ace Home Center, Arby's, Autozone, A-Won Buffet, Bee Electric LLC., Bruce Lanes, Burger King, Carmike Cinemas, Choo Choo's, Craft 2000, Domino's, Eat-N-Park, Family Hair Care, Fashion Bug, Fiesta, Garfield's, Gold Diggers, Go Mart 64, Gump's Septic Porta Potty, Hollywood Nails, Howell's Tire-N-Jenny Lube, J.C. Mensore Distributor Inc., Jim Klug Excavating, JT-3 Radio Shack, Kay Jewelers, KFC, Long John Silvers, NAPA, New Martinsville Parks and Recreation, NTB, Madaline's Family Hair Care, McDonald's, Occasions Florist and Gifts, Paradise Pizza, PeKing Chinese Buffett, Pizza Hut, Quinet's Court Restaurant, S&S Jewelry, Sunoco, Subway (by McDonald's), The Flower Basket, The Book Store, The Tin Ceiling, Tom's One Stop, Tractor Supply, Valley Cinema 3, Valley Tire, Wayside, Wetzel County Commission, Witschey's, and Work's Fitness