When Eddie graduates on April 13, he’ll be spared the usual uncertainty and anxiety about employment experienced by most students. The golden retriever, named after Goodwill® founder Rev. Edgar J. Helms, recently met his future “employer” and companion, 13-year old Jordyn Miller, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
Eddie is one of the first graduates of Chattanooga Goodwill’s Assistance Dog Academy. The transition from student to full-time service companion is a much-awaited culmination of two years’ intense, 24/7 education under the tutelage of Ramona Nichols, a certified dog trainer and the director of the Assistance Dog Program.
During their training, the assistance dogs learn more than 90 commands and master skills like opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving items and pulling wheelchairs. Upon graduation, the agency matches the dogs with carefully-screened recipients who live in Goodwill’s 23-county service area. All the dogs are given away free of charge.
Joey Miller, Jordyn’s mother and an elementary school teacher, had submitted the application for an assistance dog on her daughter’s behalf.
“I was so excited and relieved when I got the call. I didn’t know how I was going to tell Jordyn ‘no’ after she had gotten so excited about everything. If they had told us no, we would’ve had to wait two years for them to train another dog. She was praying night and day,” Miller told the Catoosa News.
Jordyn will be the first student in her county’s school system to use a service animal, and will attend a two-week training camp to learn how to manage Eddie. Nichols will also meet with school officials to educate them on assistance dog behavior and etiquette.