A Lesson in Love: A Special Education Service Dog

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A Special Education

Annie settled in with Lawrence and her husband, Gary, and soon won over the couple's three children, ages 28, 26, and 21, who live nearby. The Lab was so gentle she would give Lawrence's 1-year-old granddaughter horsey rides. And Annie quickly learned to fetch Lawrence's sneakers for their daily walks. "I call her my personal trainer," jokes Lawrence. "But I also get in thinking and prayer time during our hikes."

On one of those walks Lawrence realized that Annie's experience -- being trapped in a dangerous situation, then saved -- was in her view analogous to God's willingness to offer help and healing.

She shared that notion with youngsters at the Baptist church she attends. Word of Annie's story spread, and last year 20 Iowa churches and Bible camps asked Lawrence to speak.

She also takes Annie to her fourth-grade special education classroom. To prepare, in the fall of 2004 she and Annie underwent the rigorous process of therapy dog certification. Annie mastered skills such as interacting with someone in a wheelchair. "She also did things I never taught her, like knowing how to calm little kids," says Lawrence. "That came from her heart."

Most of the time Annie's presence in the classroom is unobtrusive. She snoozes in the book nook or pads around the desks, her tags jingling. But when Lawrence announces that it's time to read Old Yeller, the children crowd around Annie, their version of the main character, stroking her silky back and scratching her belly.

The children are learning, and so is Lawrence. "As a teacher, I have expectations, and my students may disappoint me," she admits. "But Annie's never upset if someone's not doing his math. She is all about unconditional love." Lawrence's life has changed so much since Annie bounded out of her cage at the shelter. "I never dreamed everything would develop this way," she says. "Thanks to Annie, my faith has been strengthened."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2007.


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