Meet Payton and her CHAMP Public Access Service Dog, Whitt.
They are a part of Dana Brown Charitable Trust funded CHAMP (Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities) Assistance Dogs’ Public Access Service Dog program in which a CHAMP-trained pup is partnered with an adult or child to provide assistance in public settings as well as in the home.
For Payton, Whitt helped her unlock a sense of confidence and independence that deeply augments her daily life. At five years old, Payton was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disorder known as Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT) which makes the muscles in her hands, legs, and feet weaker. In turn, activities such as walking, balancing, stairs, or anything else that requires strength or balance is difficult.
Now 18, and with Whitt by her side, Payton is overcoming some of the barriers associated with CMT:
At the end of every year, my high school has an event called “Field Day.” This is a day in which the whole school spends time on the sports fields watching and participating in athletic activities. However, because of the uneven, hilly terrain of the fields and my bad balance, for my first three years of high school, I was unable to participate. However, this changed when I got Whitt. Whitt is able to help me with my balance via a harness. Because of him, I was able to participate in my senior year Field Day and had a blast. It was the first time I had ever been on the fields without holding on to my friends or family for support. It felt incredible to be independent and able to hang out with my friends and participate in an activity I never thought possible. I couldn’t have done it without him; Whitt was absolutely incredible! He ignored all the balls being thrown and the many sounds and smells and focused on helping me! He sure got a lot of ball play after that day!
In addition to helping me navigate Field Day, Whitt also assisted me at my high school graduation ceremony. At the commencement, students receive their diplomas and then carry it up and down the stairs to the stage multiple times. However, since holding the handrail and/or Whitt is essential for me when navigating stairs, also holding the diploma would make this activity difficult. Before I got Whitt I would have had to rely on a classmate or teacher to carry this for me. However, Whitt was more than happy to do this job and allowed me to feel confident, independent, and less nervous. Plus, he looked SO handsome in his tie and cuff links!
Payton and Whitt are inspirational examples of CHAMP Public Access Service Dogs program mission in action; both partners, dog and human, have a better life because of the other.
CHAMP was incorporated in January 1998 and functions out of a small office in Florissant, MO with the help of 180+ volunteers. Their programs range from raising, training, and placing therapy dogs to educational programming and the Public Access Service Dogs program that Payton and Whitt participate in. As of July 2016, CHAMP has placed a total of 69 Service Dogs and Facility Dogs across the region.
When Dana Brown established the Dana Brown Charitable Trust in 1994, it was with the mission of providing for the health, education, and welfare of disadvantaged children and the health and welfare of animals in the St. Louis Metro area. Many of our grant-recipients serve either children or animals, but CHAMP Assistance Dogs is in the unique position where their services positively impact both arms of our organizational focus. Thanks to contributions from organizations like the Dana Brown Charitable Trust, CHAMP Assistance Dogs is able to provide service dogs free of charge, a fantastic contribution to the well-being of our community.
To learn more about CHAMP and their mission, visit their website here.