Service Dog Gracie for TBI Survivor
The recovery process has been challenging, educational, and painful for Greg – he continues to struggle with major and minor physical symptoms. This cyst has become a source of many current medical issues, ranging from insomnia to seizures, as well, as a reduced sense of health and well-being. Dark glasses, for example, have become a necessity to shield from sensory overload.
Greg has sought the help of a number of skilled surgeons regarding the removal or reduction of the cyst, and has been met with disappointment. Through constant effort to regain as much of his former independent lifestyle as he once knew it, he set out to create greater awareness of the challenges faced by those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) through continued writing and community involvement. But the struggle to navigate daily activities that others so easily take for granted continues and hampers his efforts.
As a veterinarian quite familiar with the benefits of service animals to those who are disabled, I truly believe that Gracie will transform Greg’s life in so many unbelievable ways. I felt compelled to become more active in this process of making sure that Gracie comes into Greg’s life because the expense of a trained service dog is yet another burden to bear for a family already stretched financially just to help Greg through his daily challenges and frequent doctor visits due to his TBI.
Service dogs are not considered pets. A true service dog is protected by the American Disabilities Act and is a highly trained animal that meets certain standards (quite different from an emotional support or therapy dog.) For example, some dogs are trained to pull wheelchairs, others are taught to alert to the sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s cry. Unlike therapy dogs, service dogs and their human companions must be allowed access to buildings (including restaurants, libraries, supermarkets, and churches), transportation systems, and other public areas and services. Another difference between therapy and service dogs is that the latter are often picked by breed for certain characteristics.
This process is in active motion right now. Greg applied for a service dog at Wilderwood, an amazing nonprofit organization based in Maryville, Tennessee, which trains service dogs for people with neurological diseases ranging from brain disorders such as Alzheimer's dementia, to autism and brain injury. Greg was approved as a candidate for a service dog, and Gracie was identified as a match. She is a black and white Goldendoodle, born April 23, 2016, in Alabama at a place called Smeralia where she was handled with love. Gracie was then transported to Wilderwood in Tennessee where she has been living for the past 3 months as part of her 18-month long training as a service dog. She currently spends her nights at a wonderful foster family home and then spends her days training at Wilderwood with some of the best and most professional trainers for service dogs in the country.
The founder of Wilderwood believes, as I do, that what happens to a person's soul, and then their perception, in the presence of a beloved service animal is far reaching. Service dogs help individuals gain independence, both emotional and physical. Not only do service dogs provide unconditional love and support, they assist in all facets of life; behavioral, emotional and physical. And at the end of Gracie’s 18-month training, she will be ready to assist Greg in all his daily activities.
Greg’s life mission now is to help other TBI survivors through his own advocacy projects. But he cannot do it alone. With Gracie by his side, Greg will gain in confidence and ability to continue pursuing his dream of helping others suffering from traumatic brain injury. Over $5,000 has already been invested in Gracie, and she is currently protected with Trupanion Pet insurance in case of any unexpected emergencies - but the mission to unite Gracie with Greg Costa cannot be accomplished without Gracie being completely funded. Our Goal is to take the stress of present and future finances off the shoulders of Greg and beautiful Gracie and let them focus all their time on healing and service. A donation in any amount will be deeply appreciated. Thanks for caring!
Visit www.wilderwood.org to learn more about Wilderwood's service dog training program.
Picture above indicates Greg's Arachnoid Cyst
Greg Costa (left) with Joseph Martins, DVM
We wanted to share this awesome photo of Gracie having fun while she trains! The team at Wilderwood Service Dogs has been very supportive and “Great Job!” so far to trainer Nikki Ballard! Grace continues to do well - no red flags at this time. We are told she is super focused and displays no fear or anxiety - learning and enjoying herself at the same time. They take Gracie to all types of busy places such as Home Depot and football and baseball games so she can learn how to focus just on “you” without being distracted with what's going on around her. Grace is ultimately learning how to be responsive and strong for Greg Costa once they are united. Thanks again for all the donations toward her training cost. Folks continue to give, and we are very grateful for any amount received on Gracie’s behalf. Please continue to share her cause when you have a moment. Sharing is Caring too!
Today we are sharing another video update with you of Grace practicing her “leave it” command. She responds so well and is a fast learner! Her human match Greg Costa, a traumatic brain injury survivor, is very much looking forward to bringing her home at the end of her training period.
Did you know that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month? The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) leads the nation in observing the month of March as Brain Injury Awareness month. The campaign theme through 2017 is “Not Alone” – a very appropriate theme for Gracie’s cause. Service dogs help disabled individuals perform functions of daily living for which they are limited, and service dogs are not considered “pets.” In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal who is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability so they are never alone.
We want to thank you again for your generous donations. We still have a long way to go to reach our $15K goal by June 30, 2017. You can help further Gracie’s cause during this March Brain Injury Awareness month by continuing to share this message with others who might want to help. Sharing is caring!
We wanted to share another photo of Grace with you today! She is such a remarkable dog and continues to respond well to her Service Dog training at Wilderwood. Greg is blessed to have been matched with a wonderful companion, but we are not out of the woods yet with regard to reaching our funding goal of $15K, and we still need your help. Can you please continue to share her cause with others who might be willing to donate online? Your kindness is very much appreciated! Thank you on behalf of Greg and Gracie!
We have another video update to show you how Gracie’s training is progressing. Grace was chosen to join the service dog training program because of her temperament and ability to learn. Here she is working with her wonderful trainer from Wilderwood demonstrating her skill to “leave it” while maintaining eye contact with her trainer. Grace will eventually be trained to meet Greg’s unique needs as a brain injury survivor. Service dogs must work 24/7 and watch their human companion’s every move. Gracie will be the “first alert” should Greg leave something burning on the stove or lose his balance while walking out and about. Varied sights and sounds that most of us take for granted might trigger a seizure in a traumatic brain injury survivor such as Greg, and Grace will be trained how to react. This is how a service dog builds confidence in their human companion – they are never alone and without assistance. Service dogs must pass many tests to prove their capability and therefore come at a cost for this highly specialized training. Service dogs are not considered “pets” – they have a job to do and must do it well. Thanks to all for your donations and continued support. Please continue to share this cause and let’s help get Grace home to Greg. We still have a long way to go to meet our $15K goal before the end of June 2017.