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Service With A Smile

June 24, 2020

One month after our baby Jeffrey was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, I met Cindy Schaefer on an SMA message board. Her son, BioNews Services columnist and forums director Kevin Schaefer, was diagnosed with type 2 SMA a couple years before that. During our first actual meeting, Kevin zipped around expertly in his new, shiny, red wheelchair. He was barely 4.

Although our respective realities of SMA differed, Cindy and I bonded like old friends reunited. After Jeffrey’s death, we continued exchanging stories about our families. She kept me posted on Kevin’s progress — and SMA’s.

I grew up with pets. My family always had a dog (or two) and a cat (or two). We also had a couple of tiny turtles once and a shoebox of mussels I lugged home from a beach vacation one blistering Texas summer. While the gag-inducing burial for the mussels was prompt upon our return home, it was not soon enough.

When my husband, Randy, and I married, I looked forward to getting our first pet. Randy claimed cats made him sneeze, so I presumed we’d start with a puppy. Wrong! Randy brought home the first pet of what turned into an ongoing list throughout the years: an adorable, multicolored, swirly-haired guinea pig.

When Ethyl was freed on occasion from his elaborate quarters, he had the run of the place. His squeals signaled his sprint-waddle to the kitchen for a slice of tomato, which he dragged merrily back down the hall and under our bed for consumption.

Our family grew. Randy rescued Jacob, a gorgeous keeshond puppy, from an unappreciative home. Maude, an abandoned and goofy springer spaniel, joined us in relatively short order. Our first three furballs coexisted mostly uneventfully and provided years of plentiful joy.

By the time the last of this trio of fur kiddos crossed the Rainbow Bridge, our expanding family included children of the two-legged variety, Matthew and Katie. We then moved and hit the local pound for new family members, Nellie and Duffy. Golden retriever and German shepherd mixes, they were from the same litter. Getting both seemed sensible at the time.

Pandy’s life as a service dog provided plenty of memorable moments for Kevin. Cindy reported that the furry helper was a natural conversation starter on college campus. Although a Lab mix, Pandy didn’t love water, but she loved life. She loved Kevin more. Once we moved to our present old farmhouse, Nellie continued her role as a social butterfly. She was crazy about people and being pampered, and she loved the pond, where she hunted for frogs at any and all opportunities. Team Kevin and Pandy accomplished much, including graduation from NC State University. As Pandy eased slowly into retirement, Kevin acquired a JACO robotic arm. This phenomenal, life-changing tool provided Kevin with enhanced independence, enabling Pandy to enjoy the perks of a simple family dog’s life.

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