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Summit Assistance Dogs, P.O. Box 699, Anacortes, WA 98221 (360) 293-5609 info@summitdogs.org

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Michelle and Hayden

It's easy to take life for granted but, within the space of just 24 hours in late 2001, Michelle's life took her on a dramatic and unforeseen detour when a rare autoimmune disease took hold of her body. Within two years, the unpredictability of the symptoms, the fatigue, inflammation and resulting pain meant that Michelle had to quit a job that she loved in social services , and she became less able to participate in social gatherings with friends and family. Life had more curve balls for Michelle. Since 2004, she has developed balance problems and, as side effects of the only prescription medication that eased her pain, she lost the sight in one of her eyes , causing limited depth perception . She also developed congestive heart failure. It's easy to understand how Michelle became less confident and outgoing and more depressed and isolated.

Sometimes life's joys take the most unlikely forms , and one of Michelle's started its journey the day a dog breeder in Idaho donated a "Labradoodle" puppy named Hayden to Summit Assistance Dogs. Michelle learned of Summit's work while researching seeing - eye dogs in the event she were to lose the sight in her other eye. She hasn't , but Michelle hadn't realized the many other ways that dogs are able to assist people. For Michelle, the benefits began as soon as she talked with the people who work at Summit because of the way they treated her with warmth and respect. After waiting 1½ years, Michelle was introduced to Hayden , and the pair has become inseparable.

Hayden has helped Michelle regain her independence and self-esteem. He helps Michelle maintain her balance and avoid the painful consequence of bumping into things that are on her blind side. Because of lessened depth perception, navigating stairs was difficult, but holding the harness Hayden wears, she is safer. Hayden can get Michelle's partner if she needs her and the phone in an emergency , and he retrieves one of her medications that she is unable to get to when she needs it. But Hayden provides much more. Michelle is responsible for every facet of Hayden's life and because of this, she says she focuses less on her problems and her pain levels.

From their earliest days together, Hayden has demonstrated his love for people. On a visit to Michelle's sister after only being with Michelle for two weeks, Hayden was the first to respond to Michelle's niece's crying by consoling her with a stuffed animal that he picked up and dropped into her bassinet, as Michelle and her sister watched from the other room.

Michelle and Hayden remain very connected with Summit, as she is the current Board President , and he acts as both mascot and official “furry representative”.