Kathy Ferrara & Mobility Assistance Dog Harvey
Author: Sarah Schaff
It takes a remarkable canine to be an assistance dog and an exceptional person to be a special education teacher, so one can only imagine what’s possible when the two forces combine! This is the story of Kathy Ferrara of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and her mobility assistance dog, Harvey, who are happily thriving in their new partnership.
During a regular checkup in 2011, a doctor noticed something wrong with Kathy’s eye response. After further testing, she was officially diagnosed with ataxic cerebral palsy caused by fetal alcohol syndrome. She now deals with coordination and balance complications, along with dizziness, hand tremors, and poor proprioception, meaning she has difficulty sensing her own body and tends to trip over uneven surfaces. Kathy uses a cane and walker to get around but is unable to steady herself if she becomes off-balance, often resulting in falls and broken bones. This is why her mobility assistance dog needs to wear a special handle for counterbalance, enabling her to be more independent. Her assistance dog, Harvey, has already exceeded her expectations.
But it’s not just Kathy who has noticed the improvement; her husband, Michael, says, “Harvey has been such a wonderful blessing for our family.” Harvey has provided Kathy with a sense of security and safety, as well as relief from anxiety and depression that previously kept Kathy inside. Some tasks he performs for her include retrieving things she’s dropped, tugging open doors and lower drawers, pushing the handicap door button for automated doors, helping her brace if she needs assistance in standing or getting up from the floor, retrieving an emergency phone, and supplying unconditional love. He even helps with laundry by collecting clothing, retrieving items from the front-load washing machine, tugging the laundry basket, and bringing clean laundry from the basket for Kathy to fold. Many of us don’t think much of bending down to pick up an item, crouching to get something off a low shelf, or even stepping over a curb and onto the grass, but these everyday activities were a challenge before Harvey came into Kathy’s life. She was tired of people watching her unsteady walk and judging her; now she’s thrilled to hit 10,000 steps by noon on a regular basis.
Kathy is a free-spirited artist. She has pay-it-forward plans to use her artistic ability to create fleece tugs for Mobility Assistance Dog teams. When asked about the people who make Can Do Canines possible, Kathy says, “God bless you… when I think of the people at the prisons and people who took him for a weekend… who give money to buy dog food and supplies, you have people doing all kinds of things and I’m in awe. I think it’s wonderful, I’m just very grateful.”
Before Harvey, Kathy’s mobility limitations made it difficult to experience the world as much as she wanted. She tells those on the waiting list, “It’s worth the wait, your life will be forever changed.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Jim and Pat Knorn
Prison: The Inmate Handlers at Stanley Correctional Institution
Special Thanks: Kris and Kent Kirn