A Lesson in Love: A Special Education Service Dog

A yellow Lab who survived a tornado has a new life teaching children.
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A Dog's Life

The congregation of Heritage United Methodist Church, in Waverly, Iowa, watched with rapt attention. The focus of their interest was a 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Annie, who sat at the front of the chapel. Pet tricks weren't the draw, though. Annie held the entire group in thrall just by resting her nose on her paws while her owner spoke at a Wednesday-night service last summer.

People had gathered to listen to Susan Lawrence, Annie's owner, weave the story of her dog's life into a parable about spiritual journeys, rescue and healing by God. According to Pastor Bob Holdorf, the storytelling captivated even the youngest listeners: "There was a 4-year-old girl who is hard to keep in one spot, but she sat watching Annie like a hawk."

Lawrence, an elementary school special education teacher in her hometown of Carlisle, Iowa, has always had a strong faith in God. But she never expected that her pet would lead her down a new spiritual path or that she'd be fielding invitations to address congregations around the state that were, like this one, more than 100 miles from her home. You can chalk it up to Annie's amazing grace, says Lawrence. "God gave Annie a special heart. Maybe her past experiences shaped her."

Adopting Annie

Much of Annie's past is a mystery. What is known is that in May 2004, soon after a devastating tornado whipped through central Iowa, an elderly man heard the sound of barking coming from an abandoned house. Annie was found trapped in the home's basement, which was partially filled with water. "When the sheriff and animal control officers pulled her out, they didn't think she'd make it," says Lawrence. After they got her to the vet, she was put on an IV and treated for shock. Over the next two weeks, however, the dog slowly recovered and was put up for adoption at a nearby no-kill shelter (which guarantees that animals left there will be adopted rather than put to sleep).

Soon after the Labrador's photo went up on Petfinder.com (a database of animals available for adoption), Lawrence stumbled across Annie's picture while looking for a new pet to bring into her life. Her 16-year-old cockapoo, Daffodil, had died earlier that year, and Lawrence had finished grieving. She'd also always wanted a service dog to help inspire children in her special education classes.

The yellow Lab's sad eyes caught her attention, so she went to meet the dog, who bounded from her cage, sat down and looked at Lawrence knowingly. "It was as though she was saying, 'What took you so long?'" Lawrence says.

Continued on page 2:  A Special Education


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