Let me tell you about my hero and daughter, Ava Mei. She is the sweetest and most thoughtful 12-year-old girl around. She has a killer sense of humor and makes us laugh every single day with her shenanigans and silly drawings. She has always loved animals of all kinds, but she needed a service dog to help her navigate her world due to her hearing impairment and to help with her severe anxiety when having to go to her numerous specialist appointments.
Since coming home with us after her adoption from China in 2011, our family (and our doctors) quickly realized that Ava’s cleft lip/palate and chronic ear infections needed a lot of work. Starting in 2011 with her first surgery to fix her palate, she has gone through numerous painful and invasive procedures and due to not having quality medical care the first 3.5 years of her life she now has a pretty significant hearing impairment. Over time, the hard of the first few years of her life has caused Ava to develop severe anxiety about going to doctors visits and going through the many procedures and surgeries she needs.
(Photo credits: Serenity Soul Photography )
The “#LoveonAvaAndBaxter” hashtag refers to the “love on” command that Baxter is trained to do. It’s a silent command where you signal the service dog with a hand gesture to go help distract the person who is in the midst of an anxiety attack. Baxter will lay on Ava and licks her face, noses for pets, or just lays quietly on top of her, whatever Ava needs from him. He just knows. This helps Ava from shutting down or freaking out during an attack. Baxter is a certified service dog who is specifically trained to help Ava. He has be an amazing blessing to her (and our family!) and amazes us daily with how much he helps Ava throughout her days. He keeps her safe and they have an incredible and indescribable bond.
We got her service dog from Retrieving Independence. (https://retrievingindependence.org/) We can’t say enough good things about this organization. They are truly a Godsend to our family and we will be furever grateful for the care and love they have shown our family. They have given us HOPE.
We went to Tennessee on March 15th, 2019 to be matched to Ava’s service dog. We didn’t choose the dog; they let the dog choose the person who needs them.
What a touching and emotional time it was when Ava was chosen by her dog. The ladies from Retrieving Independence said that "we will just know" which dog is perfect for Ava, that the dog will chose Ava. And that's exactly what happened. Baxter chose Ava.
It was an incredible, moving moment.
RI has a great partnership with the Turney Center Correctional Facility and the service dogs are trained by the inmates and then go on furlough over the weekends with volunteers. Which we think is such a great program.
After Baxter chose Ava to be his human we got to meet the two inmates who are training Baxter. They showed us some of what Baxter can do already and we got to talk with them for a bit and go over what specific training they should be working on specifically for Ava’s needs.
We traveled back to Nashville, TN for a 10-day training period at the end of July, 2019 and after the graduation ceremony we brought Baxter home to start the new adventures of the dynamic duo!
Of course, all this did cost some money. (Although RI is one of THE most reasonable service dog placing organizations.) We trusted and stepped out in faith that we could raise the funds needed and through the generous giving of our friends, family, and even strangers, we were able to travel and bring Baxter home!!
I try and do lots of updates through this journey as we are so thankful and we hope to help others have Love. Dignity. Change.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting Baxter and Ava’s journey!
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