Thomas Powers and Mobility Assistance Dog Dryden
Author: Caty Taborda-Whitt
If you glanced at Thomas (Tom) Powers’ busy schedule, you may never guess he has anything potentially slowing him down. A teacher at an elementary school for the Anoka-Hennepin School district, Tom is also an active leader in the teachers’ union, sings in a choir, and plays in a golf league. Yet over 23 years ago, Tom, of Coon Rapids, was in a car accident that caused a bone spur to his spinal cord resulting in a contusion at the C3-4 vertebrae. This left him as an incomplete quadriplegic with limited sensation from the waist down.
It was a long road to recovery, but through months of rehabilitation Tom went from only being able to move his shoulders to being able to walk again. It’s not always easy though, especially after a routine pump replacement surgery two years ago that left Tom unstable and needing a wheelchair or cane. Still, he had never considered an assistance dog until both his therapist and rehabilitation doctor at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center suggested it. The suggestion came after Tom’s 13-year-old Labrador passed away in December of 2015. At first dismissive, Tom warmed up to the idea of an assistance dog and applied to Can Do Canine in 2016.
“I let it percolate a little. I loved having a dog, but with my busy schedule I hated leaving a dog home. And then I thought, you know, I’ll go through the process and learn more about this. And it’s been a good thing.”
Can Do Canines matched Tom with Mobility Assist Dog Dryden, a sweet two-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever equipped to help Tom with several tasks that make his life safer and easier. After working through an accelerated training program that fit Tom’s busy work schedule, Dryden now helps Tom with everything from dragging a laundry basket to carrying grocery bags. By providing Tom with stability when he walks, Dryden also lessens Tom’s need for a wheelchair or cane and increases Tom’s daily exercise, which lowers his blood pressure and stress.
Because Tom has always been so independent, he’s had to adjust to having Dryden’s help. Even though it’s sometimes frustrating to not do everything for himself, Tom says he now embraces Dryden’s help because, “It’s saving my energy for better things.”
One of Dryden’s biggest jobs is helping Tom with stability and balance, especially in those crowded elementary school hallways with lots of busy students walking by. Whereas Tom used to rely on his wheelchair in those hectic halls, he can now get around more safely and comfortably with Dryden by his side.
Unsurprisingly, Dryden’s become quite a hit at school, even getting his picture taken during “I Love to Read Month”. As Tom joyously recounts, “We made sure that Dryden has his picture with a book, and he had his ball.” The popular canine staff member is also featured in the yearbook.
Tom is now so glad that he pursued getting an assistance dog, not just for the help but also the companionship. As he puts it, “The unconditional love of a dog is the best. They are a day brightener. What joy Can Do Canines has brought into my life. Thank you!”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home – Lisa Neiderloh
Puppy Raiser – The Inmate Handlers at the Federal Correctional Institution – Waseca
Special Thanks – Linda and Stu Wicklund