Alayna Mendenhall is bonding with a new companion, appropriately named Shadow.
The 5th grader with spina bifida and her mother raised more than $8,000 needed for a service dog. Now they are in the early stages of training.
The family recently visited a Missouri breeder to see 2 puppies in hope that one would be a good match for Alayna, who uses a wheelchair and walker.
“I took all of Alayna’s equipment with us because I wanted to see how the puppies would react to certain things,” said Monica Mendenhall, Alayna’s mother.
“We went into a room and they had the puppies join us and we continued to talk and just watch the puppies. One puppy came up to Alayna right away, but then really didn’t have an interest anymore after a few minutes and was a bit nervous around her wheelchair. Shadow originally was just standing back watching everyone, but then decided to see Alayna and he never left her side.”
The walker and wheelchair did not faze Shadow. The 18-week-old German Shepherd laid down at her feet and under her chair.
“After about 2 hours we decided that Shadow was perfect and we would be taking him home with us,” Monica said.
“Alayna was pretty quiet but had the best smile the whole time. Once we started back for home, Alayna started talking about the visit and she said the best part was that Shadow picked her!”
If all goes as planned, Shadow will learn how to open and close doors, turn on lights, pick up dropped items and help with shoes and jackets. The dog will brace Alayna so she can stand, and retrieve her wheelchair and walker.
Training is a long process. Shadow is with the Massillon family for a bonding period, and in late October he will stay with the Akron trainer. Service dogs typically train until they are at least 1 ½ to 2 years old, Monica said.
“Once Shadow and Alayna have passed the certification test he will be considered a mobility service dog and will be allowed to go everywhere with her,” she said.
A patient at Akron Children’s Hospital, Alayna has been weaving potholders and selling them on Etsy to raise money for the dog. She and Monica raised most of the money through a GoFundMe page.
Alayna has been bothered by the reactions of others while walking with her walker or other type of assistance, Monica said. She hopes that aside from helping Alayna with daily needs, Shadow will help her gain more self-confidence.