Meta Mickelson and Mobility Assist Dog Willa
By Bill Johnson
Physical activity and a busy schedule have always come naturally to Meta Mickelson of Stanchfield, Minnesota. A horse lover and owner, she frequently attends races at Canterbury Downs and Running Aces, as well as horse shows. Other pastimes include road trips (the Great Smoky Mountains last spring) and outings to the drive-in theater in Lake Elmo. Recently, she bought a boat and looks forward to many fishing excursions.
Learning about Meta’s on-the-go lifestyle, a person might have a hard time believing she has primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that gradually robs people of their strength and mobility. But Meta refuses to give in.
“I don’t want to just sit around the house,” she states. “If there’s something to do, I will do it.”
Fortunately, Mobility Assist Dog Willa helps Meta maintain her busy schedule, while reducing the risk of injury. The Black Labrador Retriever teamed up with Meta in May 2017. She performs a number of tasks, such as picking up dropped items, turning on the light in the morning, and fetching shoes.
“Due to problems with my balance, the more I have to bend over, the greater the risk I have of falling,” explains Meta. “With Willa able to pick up things, I’ve experienced fewer falls, and I have peace mind knowing I’m not going to get hurt.”
During the course of a week, Meta and Willa hit the road for various reasons, including physical therapy appointments, MS support group meetings, and her newspaper delivery route. “When I leave the house, I have to go down steps, and I can’t reach the handle to close the door. Previously, I fell a couple times trying to do it. Now Willa closes the door by pulling on a tug attached to the handle.”
One of the little surprises for Meta was Willa’s ability to assist with sock removal. “I wasn’t able to wear socks because they were so hard to take off. Now I can wear socks again. If I put them on, Willa takes them off for me. Simple things like that make life easier and more comfortable.”
Meta is also impressed with Willa’s ability to understand and respond to specific instructions. “If I tell her to get my shoes from another room, she’ll do that. It’s amazing to me how she knows the difference between my shoes and other things, like her ball.”
As a bonus, Willa has a sweet, mild-mannered personality, and she gets along great with Gracie, Meta’s 11-year-old Dachshund, and Sierra, the Puggle (Beagle/Pug mix) who belongs to Meta’s housemate. “It’s entertaining to watch Willa race around the yard. Even though Gracie tries to keep up, I tell her to move out of the way or she’s going to get run over!”
For all that Willa provides—assistance, companionship, and occasional entertainment—Meta truly appreciates everyone who contributed to this success story, including Willa’s Puppy Raisers and the inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution, Waseca, who provided training.
Meta is particularly grateful for all the people who’ve contributed financially to Can Do Canines, making it possible for her to obtain Willa at no cost. “It’s an awesome thing to do that for people who don’t have the resources for an assistance dog. If I had to raise the funds myself, this never would’ve happened.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: The Kelley-Pegg family
Special Thanks: The inmate handlers at FCI Waseca
You: Thank you for your donations!