TRAVERSE CITY — Ask Woodrow, a 3-year-old Chocolate lab, to pull the alarm and he goes padding down the hallway to where the device hangs on a stair rail, grabs the strap and gives it a tug.

Nothing happens, but he tugs it several times before his owners, Steve and Susan Killip, realize the battery is dead.

Good dog.

"Woody" is Steve Killip's mild-mannered service dog and he has been specially trained to respond to Steve's individual mobility needs.

The dog was given to the Killips by Paws With a Cause, an organization that also trains and provides free of charge seizure response dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs for children with autism.

Steve was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002, with complications from brain lesions causing partial paralysis that requires him to use a wheelchair.

It wasn't until about seven years after his diagnosis that he got Moe, his first service dog. Moe recently retired after 11 years of service, though he still lives with the Killips. Woody, 3, took over Moe's duties about seven months ago.

Woody has been taught to open and close doors for Steve, pick things up off the floor when Steve drops them or pull the alarm if Steve needs help, something that gives Susan peace of mind.

Before getting a service dog, Steve broke his thumb twice trying to pick something up.

Susan also remembers the time when she was still working as a hospital lab manager and Steve had spilled out of his chair onto the wheelchair ramp. Steve had his phone — as he always does — but his glasses had gone flying and he couldn't see the buttons.

Moe retrieved the glasses and Steve was able to call Susan. The dog then stayed at Steve's side until help came.

"It was huge to me to know that the dog was there and staying by him," Susan said.

Steve, a former hospital administrator, and Susan moved to Traverse City from the Grand Rapids area about 18 months ago when she retired.

Woody goes everywhere with the Killips, walking alongside Steve's motorized scooter and making sure everything is OK. He also has a leather harness that he can use to pull Steve's wheelchair along.

Whenever Woody is out of the house he's on the job.

"When he's home he's pretty much off-duty," Steve said. "But when he's off-duty he'll still do what I ask him to do."

Woody has been to restaurants, is a frequent flyer at the library and goes to church.

"He's one of the only ones who can sleep in church," Steve said.

While at the grocery store the couple parts ways so that Susan can do her thing and Steve and Woody can do theirs, Steve said.

Woody also goes for recreational walks with Steve. The Killips look forward to doing some exploring this summer, though Steve can only go on paved trails.

They've already been to the dune overlook in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was a pretty steep climb for a wheelchair, but well worth it.

"The view is beautiful," Steve said.

Paws, a nonprofit organization in Wayland, has been around for 40 years and has trained nearly 3,000 assistance dogs. At about 8 weeks old a puppy that has been bred by Paws will go to live with a volunteer, where it will learn basic obedience.

At about a year or so old, puppies leave their foster homes and are sent to one of five prisons that partner with Paws. There they are assigned to prisoners and will live with them in their cells so they get used to being with someone 24/7, said Cara Conway, public relations and social media coordinator for Paws.

Before Paws had its own breeding program it took in rescues that were trained as service dogs, Conway said. The success rate was about one dog in 12, she said. Dogs from the Paws breeding program have a one in two or one in three success rate, she said.

Paws is always looking for foster puppy raisers, she said. Giving the dog up at the end of the year is difficult, but the program is a good way to give back, she said.

"You may want the puppy, but someone else needs that dog," Conway said.

Service dogs have to be recertified every two years.

Woody came from a litter of 12 puppies, six of which became service dogs. In addition to being able to help Steve, Woody lowers Steve's blood pressure and provides comic relief, Steve said.

Steve can't imagine his life without a service dog.

"It gets me out of the house and allows me to think about something else besides myself," he said.

Trending Video

Recommended for you