April 16th, 2024

Paws-itively best friends; service dog transforms Hatter’s life

By Brendan Miller on December 9, 2023.

Kerian McCormick, 22, and his 20-month-old service dog Ruth enjoy their time together in a small park along Southdale Court.--NEWS PHOTO BRENDAN MILLER

bmiller@medicinehatnews.com

A tragic head injury in 2021 changed the life of 22-year-old Kerian McCormick, leaving him with long-lasting mental health and mobility issues.

Due to his injuries, McCormick was forced to quit his job as a child caregiver and now relies on disability support.

It was during this difficult time McCormick met a Red Fox Labrador puppy named Ruth who would soon become his best fur-ever friend.

“She is absolutely my best friend,” smiles McCormick. “I’m not afraid to go out in public anymore. I’m excited to go out to the mall and go out and do things with my friends because if I have a medical episode, I’ve got my medical equipment right there and I don’t need to worry anybody.”

Ruth had been fostered by Christine Russell, founder of Paws 4 Resiliency, a local non-profit committed to becoming the most affordable option for those in need of a service dog in Medicine Hat and surrounding communities.

Paws 4 Resiliency pairs people with puppies from local breeders and the shelter that have the correct temperament and abilities to become a future service dog.

Russell agreed to donate the puppy to McCormick under the condition he provide her a loving home and pay for the training to become a certified service dog.

That led to McCormick launching a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year.

With the generous support of the community and a couple large donations from the Lions Club and United Commercial Travelers, McCormick was able to afford the adoption costs as well as the cost to enrol Ruth in the training program.

“They helped out and I’m so grateful for that because living on disability, I wasn’t able to actually plan and budget (for a service dog)”

In November, Ruth and McCormick graduated from a 25-week, five-level therapy, obedience and service-dog training program.

Today the 20-month-old pup is trained in cardiac alert, seizure alert, psychiatric assistance and mobility assistance, however the first command she was taught was “leave it.”

“So I can put food right in front of Ruth and tell her to leave it, she will leave it. If we’re walking through the mall or somewhere crowded and somebody drops a hot dog, she’s not going to touch it.”

McCormick suffers from a seizure disorder known as PNES, which triggers non-epileptic seizures.

During a seizure episode Ruth is trained to apply deep-pressure therapy by placing at least 30 per cent of her body weight on McCormick to help prevent self injuries until help arrives.

“She will either go up on my chest or on my lap depending on what position that I’m in and she’ll just stay with me. She will not leave unless there’s an ambulance, she recognizes that.”

A Labrador’s heightened senses allows Ruth to detect epileptic seizures and warn McCormick in advance.

As well, his injuries have left him with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which can increase his heart rate significantly after getting up from sitting or laying down.

Ruth is able to alert McCormick when he’s over exhausted and let him know he needs to take a break.

“She will sit there and she’ll cry until I either sit down or I get a drink of water, or she goes and gets me water.”

McCormick says one of Ruth’s favourite activities is fetching his medication for him every day.

“She absolutely loves it. Her tail gets going. It’s her favourite thing in the world. Like all of the tasks, she really likes them because dogs like having a purpose.”

McCormick credits Ruth’s adoption for changing his life and helping him become a more independent person. The responsibility of taking care of a dog forces McCormick to get out of bed on days when he is struggling with his mental health.

“For a lot of people, that’s a big struggle,” explains McCormick. “But when you have something to take care of that loves you and licks your face until you wake up, you just have to feed them and take care of them.”

McCormick says he’s inspired by the generosity of Paws 4 Resiliency as well as all the donations he received from his GoFundMe.

He recently became a volunteer board member with Paws 4 Resiliency. He helps with social media as well as designing the website.

McCormick is also working to become a certified dog trainer and plans to continue fundraising efforts with Paws 4 Resiliency so the non-profit can continue providing affordable options for people seeking a service or therapy dog.

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