PUPPY LOVE: Service dog changed child’s life

Published 12:46 am Friday, September 22, 2017

Before Paisley Kennedy was born, she was already fighting an unbeatable disease.

The little girl born to Nicole and Matt Kennedy of Andalusia, was delivered prematurely at 31 weeks.

For the first year of the small girl’s life, doctors speculated about what was affecting Paisley’s progress in movement. After an MRI, Paisley was diagnosed with Periventricular Leukomalacia, known as PVL. The disease is a form of white matter brain injury, identified by the coagulation of white matter in the lateral ventricles.

This disease is usually found in newborns. In common terms, it affects brain tissue and nerve fibers that help control body movement.

The extent of damage is usually determined by what areas of the brain are affected. Some children go blind, some lose the ability to walk.

Paisley, now a 10-year-old Straughn Elementary student, seems perfectly normal. But it wasn’t that easy for her. She’s lived her life in a series of medical terms, and stressful doctor visits.

Paisley has such a large amount of white matter on her brain that doctors are doing a study to find out why she is able to walk . One day a case of PVL could be named for her.

While Paisley is able to move freely, there are moments when she loses control of her motor skills and falls to the floor. This is where Princess Sofia comes in.

Princess Sofia is a Papillon who serves as Paisley’s service dog. Princess Sofia is a fall alert dog. But to Paisley, the dog is her best friend.

The service dog was trained by Service Dogs Alabama, and was paired with Paisley when she was only 7.

“My last resort was searching for a service dog. I really thought I’d never get paired,” Mrs. Kennedy said.

But Frances McGowin of Service Dogs Alabama secured the service dog easily for the Kennedys. Service Dogs of Alabama regularly holds meetings with the families of service dog recipients.

Princess Sofia is trained as a fall alert dog and will frantically bark when Paisley falls. But the small dog also can pick up on things like anxiety attacks, and will usually stand on Paisley when she senses distress.

Princess Sofia travels with Paisley to every hospital visit, and every doctor appointment.

“Paisley and Princess Sofia communicate on a different, much more emotional level,“ Mrs. Kennedy explained. “Princess Sofia is truly her best friend.”

For the Kennedys, remembering life before having a service dog is hard. Having PVL not only took a toll on Paisley’s physical health, but also her mental health.

Paisley would go to school knowing she was different. She didn’t have many friends, and the children in her class would sometimes make fun of her for wearing knee braces.

“Because of Paisley’s brain damage, she has severe anxiety and depression. Before having a service dog, Paisley would cry herself to sleep at night and pray to go to Heaven,” Mrs. Kennedy said.

Princess Sofia can pick up on these behaviors, and usually runs to comfort Paisley. When Paisley falls, Princess Sofia stands on top of Paisley barking until someone comes, or will run to nearest person, alerting them until they follow her.

Casual observers look at he two together and see a girl with a small, spotted white dog. But to the Kennedys, she’s a savior.

Service Dogs Alabama may be reached at 334-676-3733 or www.ServiceDogsAlabama.org.