For KK Krawczyk, a 10-year-old with a life-threatening disorder called mastocytosis, her service dog, JJ, is her best friend. For KK’s mom, Michelle, the dog is a life-changer.
“We really had to limit activity for her before we got JJ because we would only know something was wrong when she was in a full-blown reaction,” Michelle said. “We didn’t even think KK could attend school.”
KK, who was diagnosed with mastocytosis at 2 months old, is considered medically fragile. Today she is able to attend Scotts Ridge Elementary School in Apex with JJ, a terrier-mix service dog who was trained by Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, a Carrboro-based nonprofit that specializes in training mobility and medical alert dogs.
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Mastocytosis is a rare disorder in which the body produces too many mast cells, the cells responsible for defending the body against potential allergens. KK’s reactions can look like anything from flushing and hives to anaphylaxis and can occur when she is tired, stressed, too hot or too cold, or exposed to any number of chemicals, her mother said.
“I looked at our big goldendoodle one day and thought aloud ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Nixon could be trained to be a service dog for KK?’,” Michelle said.
We really had to limit activity for her before we got JJ.
Michelle Krawczyk, whose daughter has a life-threatening disorder called mastocytosis
Every service dog agency that Michelle called turned down her request to train a dog for KK’s condition – until EENP. Deb Cunningham, the organization’s program director, was intrigued, Michelle said.
Cunningham took a swab from KK’s mouth for an EENP dog to smell, then added swabs from other mastocytosis cases, along with a negative swab, to be sure that JJ wasn’t just alerting to KK’s scent. When JJ is on the job, as she has been since just before KK started kindergarten, she can smell when KK is about to have a reaction and alert the family by barking, nudging or staring, and even retrieving KK’s medications.
All of this is made possible by EENP, which began in 2008 using primarily community volunteers who housed and trained the dogs in their homes for 18 months. Volunteers covered the basics of teaching obedience and socialization, then brought the dogs to a training facility during the day for advanced training, said Maria Ikenberry, EENP’s executive director.
Recruiting enough volunteers to run the program became difficult, though. So in 2014, the group shuttered their original model and began anew, using inmates as dog trainers in a program called At Both Ends of the Leash.
The redesigned program places puppies in volunteer homes for up to six months, until they are ready to be paired with inmate trainers at the Franklin Correctional Center in Bunn. Inmate trainers are responsible for basic and advanced training of the dogs, according to the group’s website. EENP staff and volunteers train the inmates to care for the dogs, Ikenberry said.
After about 22 months, on average, the dogs are placed with a person they can assist. Usually, the dogs help diabetics or people with mobility limitations. To date, 14 dogs have been placed.
Labrador retrievers are the most common breed used, and they are provided to EENP by a breeding cooperative that trains assistance dogs. However, they have had some success with shelter dogs such as JJ, who was dropped off as a puppy at the Orange County Animal Shelter.
Ikenberry said that there is a placement fee of $20,000, and insurance rarely covers it, she said. A financial aid program can help cover up to 75 percent of the cost, which can be significant for families.
“We want to make sure clients know how much of a significant commitment it is to have this dog,” Ikenberry said.
Ikenberry said that their No. 1 need is always funding. In the next year, the group will need funding to start a new inmate program like the one in Franklin County. The program provides inmates with valuable job and interpersonal skills that can help them reenter society after their release, said Michelle, who now serves as a board member for EENP.
“(EENP’s) mission is partnering people with dogs to improve lives. What we’ve now realized is that this helps these inmates beyond any measure,” she said.
Eyes Ears Nose and Paws
209 Lloyd St., Suite 320
Carrboro, N.C. 27510
Contact: Maria Ikenberry, 919-408-7292
Description: Eyes Ears Nose and Paws trains and places assistance dogs to work with individuals with disabilities. Our dogs are trained in partnership with the correctional system. Our Service Dog program trains and partners dogs with individuals with mobility impairments. These dogs are trained to assist with a wide variety of daily tasks, including retrieving items, opening doors, operating buttons and switches, and helping prevent and recover from falls. The Medical Alert Dog program provides dogs that are trained to detect and alert their human companions to changes in medical condition, to retrieve medical kits, and to seek assistance, including by using a specially designed phone to dial a previously designated number for help. We believe learning and service happen at both ends of the leash, so we started a partnership with the correctional system where we teach inmates to train our assistance dogs. The dogs receive full-time attention, training, and love; the inmate-trainers are able to develop interpersonal, leadership, and job skills while giving back to the community.
Donations needed: Cash donations support our programs directly. Your support helps change the life of a person living with disability, as well as the inmates who train the assistance dogs.
Volunteers needed: Volunteers help with a variety of tasks, from raising our puppies to serving on committees to helping spread the word about our work. Volunteers can care for dogs on a short-term basis, provide support for our ABEL prison partnership, help clean and maintain the training room, help out in the office, and help with special events, among other jobs. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit the volunteer page on our website at eenp.org/main/volunteer.
$10 would buy: A dog toy or a book for our inmate-trainers’ library, and a thank-you woof from one of our dogs.
$20 would buy: A piece of training equipment such as a push button or a light switch, and a thank-you lick from a happy dog.
$50 would buy: A collar, leash, and service vest that help identify an assistance dog or an assistance dog in training to the public, or a month’s supply of food for a dog, and a whole-body wriggle full of happiness from one of our pups.