After waiting five years, Troutdale woman finally receives her match

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SUMMIT ASSISTANCE DOGS - Diana and Hyak, therapy dog and new companion. Diana Keever had never owned a dog before she got her new life companion, Hyak.

The 51-year-old Troutdale woman born with cerebral palsy has lived independently her whole life, aside from being married for 20 years. Keever’s husband died 12 years ago.

As she got older, Keever said her cerebral palsy, a chronic disorder that disrupts the brain’s ability to control posture and movement, was reaching the point where she needed help in her daily life.

She began applying for a service animal, Keever said, “to better my life, to stay independent as long as I can.”

After she was turned down by a place in California, Summit Assistance Dogs in Anacortes, Wash., put her on the waiting list to be matched with a dog.

Keever waited five years before she got the call.

Puppy named Hyak

A local breeder in Washington had donated a female yellow Labrador puppy to the Summit program.

The nonprofit organization has been training professional therapy dogs to assist people living with disabilities since 2000.

Those interested in getting a dog can go online and fill out an application.

Then the process begins, said Melissa Barran, a Summit spokeswoman. Different applicants need different kinds of dogs depending on their needs, she said. “It is essentially a marriage between the applicants and their needs, and the dogs we are training.”

After a dog is matched, the applicant is interviewed. Then, “It can take anywhere from six months to two years to make sure the fit is perfect,” she said.

Training begins at prison

The dogs are taken twice a week to a prison in Monroe, Wash., where inmates help train them, said Lisa Freshour, Summit trainer and prison program director. The yellow Lab, Hyak, went as a puppy.

“It brings a little humanity in (the prisoners’) life, and the dog gets a lot of attention,” Freshour said.

After a year and a half at the prison, the dogs work with advanced trainers at the Summit facility.

“Hyak worked with me for about six months and learned service dog skills,” Freshour said.

With a bit of training and discipline, the dogs are assessed based on applicants’ needs.

Keever, who has arthritis in her hands and moves by electric chair, needed a dog that could go out in public with her, get on the bus, tug open doors, retrieve items and fetch phones. Living in an apartment, she also needed a dog that wouldn’t bark too much and would stay calm.

“There are many things to consider when matching dog and person,” Freshour said. Dog and person also have to connect on an emotional level, she said,

“We thought Diana and Hyak would be a good match.”

A match is made

“I was pretty excited,” Keever said, recalling when she was invited up to Washington to meet 2-year-old Hyak.

Having waited so long, she was anxious and nervous because she had never taken care of a dog before, “but I was up for the challenge,” she said.

“They really hit it off and work well together,” Freshour said, “So we made the match.”

As her first dog, Keever had to learn a whole new vocabulary to handle her therapy dog, and Hyak had to understand Keever, who has difficulty speaking.

The two completed a two-week training together in July. On Jan. 12, they celebrated their partnership with six others at Summit’s annual graduation ceremony.

More freedom

Since Hyak has come home with her, Keever said life has changed completely.

“Hyak is wonderful,” she said. “The program I got her from is wonderful. They train and love the dogs. It’s helping people to be more independent.”

Keever said she still has more time to live on her own.

“To have the freedom I have with the dog,” she said, “I don’t have to depend on other people’s help.”

At home, Hyak helps her pick up things she drops. “She is starting to open the refrigerator. We are still working on her pulling clothes out of the dryer,” Keever said, “She’s a good girl.”

Keever likes to watch old musicals and and spend time outdoors, sometimes taking photographs.

With Hyak by her side, the two venture out as often as they can.

“I’m not so cautious going out in public,” Keever said, “because I know she will take care of me and I will take care of her.”

Keever underwent neck surgery last week. While she recovers, Summit trainers will take care of Hyak. She hopes to get her back the first week in February.

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