Celine and Service Dog Raylan

January 20, 2024

We heard from Celine Stahl at the January annual meeting and are sharing her remarks here. Celine spoke from the heart when she described her journey with Service Dog Raylan.

I am blessed to have a NEADS Service Dog who has incredibly changed my life for the better. My service dog’s name is Raylan, and we were partnered in December 2016.

I researched various service dog agencies and applied to NEADS in 2015. I was impressed with the application and interview process and learned so much from that initial interview, when they had me work with a couple of different dogs to see how a NEADS dog could be tailored specifically for me. They got it in spades! Once I was matched, I went to NEADS for two weeks of training; it was transformative.

Raylan is an integral part of my life every single day. He helps me with all my activities of daily living. You have to understand that prior to coming to NEADS, I really had a very limited life, and, due to my multiple disabilities, I was pretty much a recluse. In different times of my life, I’ve been in a wheelchair, I’ve used a walker, and I’ve used a cane. But today, I actually just have Raylan. I tell you this to demonstrate the gigantic leaps that he has facilitated in my everyday life. Even when I’ve had setbacks, he helps me regroup and get back on the path forward.

How does he help? He provides safety, assurance, and assistance every single day.

While walking with him, his physical presence next to me and in my line of sight helps with my stability and balance. He picks up items for me when I drop them, which means I don’t have to bend over and run the risk of losing my balance and falling. I’ve broken both hips and a wrist in this way, but now Raylan helps with all of this and keeps me safe.

He helps in other ways. One time, I was trying to get up from the couch, but I fell and needed help. I gave Raylan the command “fetch phone.” He brought it to me, and I was able to call 911. EMTs arrived, and the two of us went to the hospital in the ambulance.

Raylan was trained for so many tasks, and even though I don’t need him to do all the tasks that he was trained for right now, we do practice them to keep him sharp. If I need those tasks in the future, he’ll be ready. I let him pay the cashier in the grocery store, I let him do the elevator buttons. When we go to the bank, he does the paws on the door pad.

Raylan makes it possible for me to live independently and to get out and go places. His impeccable behavior, plus his diligence, responsiveness, and focus on me, draws the attention of people in public and in private situations. You don’t see or hear him. He doesn’t whine, he doesn’t draw attention, he just works flawlessly and seamlessly. He’s disciplined, focused, and calm. He’s never reactive.

This dog knows me so well and knows his job. He’s learned and adapted to my lifestyle, and it’s remarkable. Two days ago, I was swimming – one of the few activities I can do that’s safe for me. But I also have a heart problem, and when my heart beats too fast, I have to stop. Raylan knows if I stop in the pool there’s something wrong. This time, although he was at the other end of the pool, he stood up and did “speak,” which caught the lifeguard’s attention.

I cannot imagine my life without a service dog. I could not live independently. I’d have be in an assisted living facility, and I’m not ready for that. Or, live with my kids. I love my kids, but I don’t want to live with them. I want to live with Raylan.

I do want you to know that it’s not just all work. I make sure every day that there is play and free time. We’ll play fetch (indoors if the weather is bad), or walk the indoor track at the Y. He swims in the summer and does other activities to keep him physically fit. He also likes just to be a couch potato with me.

Raylan is very well-cared-for. I keep him perfectly groomed and perfectly dressed. He has the best medical care possible, he gets his teeth cleaned, he sees the ophthalmologist. And I watch what he eats. If you’ve spent any time with the NEADS trainers, you know how important maintaining your dog’s healthy weight is. Well, Raylan weighs about one pound less than when we left training.

Words just can’t express how impactful Raylan has been in my life. I count my blessings every single day.