Partners and Paws Summer 2021

“Everyone is capable of doing great things and

leaving their mark on the

world. If it takes a service dog to help facilitate that, I want to be part of it.”

volunteer spotlight Tonya and Lion Every single one of our dogs has their own strengths, personalities, and challenges along the way to becoming Saint Francis Service Dogs. Little Lion was up against some pretty big challenges, but fortunately for him and for us, he was in amazing hands. Tonya and her family volunteered to whelp a litter of our puppies this spring. Our volunteer whelpers are very important. They bring one of our mama dogs into their homes to have her litter of puppies and, with the support of our Breeding Program Staff, provide all of the early care for the litter for the first eight weeks. Lion’s siblings were all making the transition to solid food, gaining weight, and growing. Tonya noticed right away that Lion was not. Thanks to her attention, care, and instinct and a few visits to Virginia Tech, Lion was diagnosed with Persistent Right Aortic Arch, which is a heart defect that requires surgery to correct. At only a few weeks old and barely 5lbs, heart surgery was out of the question for the time being. So, Tonya stepped up in big ways to help Lion stay healthy until he was big enough for surgery. After brainstorming with our team, Tonya handmade a sling to feed him his liquid diet while keeping him in an upright position. She dubbed it “The Lion Tamer.” This allowed him to eat safely. Her children helped her make sure Lion didn’t eat anything he wasn’t supposed to, and provided A LOT of play time, walks, and snuggles - an important part of being a puppy. It was a family affair!

Through a lot of dedication, care, love, and six messy liquid meal feedings in the Lion Tamer a day, Lion grew. In fact, he was doing so well under Tonya’s care that the original goal of surgery at 8 weeks was bumped to 11 weeks, making it a far less risky procedure. On June 9th, Lion received his surgery at Virginia Tech, and he is doing

great! He is spending his recovery time at Tonya’s, who is now working to introduce solid food by increasing the consistency of each meal. Each day, thanks to Tonya and her family, we’re one step closer to having a puppy that can enter training and hopefully fulfill his destiny. When we asked Tonya why she decided to volunteer to whelp this litter, she said, “Saint Francis is helping to level the playing field. Everyone is capable of doing great things and leaving their mark on the world. If it takes a service dog to help facilitate that, I want to be part of it.” Thank you for choosing to be a part of it, Tonya. You have certainly done great things for Lion, and left your mark on all of us at Saint Francis!

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