“Canine Companions empowers Téa’s dreams”

Independence, Connection, and a Best Friend

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA — Nine-year-old Téa, a quadriplegic, had three very good reasons why she needed a service dog. 

First, she wanted greater independence. Second, she wanted people to see her rather than awkwardly ignoring her. And third, she wanted a friend. 

As a mom, hearing those things melted my heart. Even though it was hard to even think of having one more thing to take care of, we started looking into service dogs for Téa (Pronounced Tay-ah). 

To our disappointment, we would have to pitch in at least $25,000-$30,000 for one of these dogs. I didn’t want to break Téa’s heart, but her cerebral palsy was already expensive. Her wheelchair alone costs more than $65,000 and insurance doesn’t pay for a lot of this. 

That’s when I read an article about NextHome’s national charity partner: Canine Companions.

Non-profit provides service dogs free of charge. It sounded too good to be true. Whatever the angle, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to put in an application. 

A week later we got a phone call from Canine Companions. That phone call set us on a path that completely changed Téa’s life and our family’s future. 

For the next week, we had very in-depth conversations with Canine Companions. Those led to an invitation to visit Orlando for an in-person screening.

Canine Companions wanted to see the type of guardians we would be, and how we would handle a dog with Téa being in a wheelchair. We learned a lot. These dogs seemed to understand what Téa was needing – sometimes when I didn’t even understand.

Things went so well that we were invited back for a two-week training course where we would meet different dogs, and hopefully, bring one home for Téa. The first dog we worked with was Babette, a sweet white and brown lab/golden cross. We called her our toasted marshmallow. 

We were fully aware that sometimes at the end of two weeks, you don’t go home with a match. They match your ability with the dog’s ability. It’s very important that both parties want to do this because if the dog doesn’t want to, then they’re not going to work for you.

At the end of the second week, we were on pins and needles. We had met and worked with all of these amazing dogs, but it was time for the dog to choose the owner, not the other way around. 

Was this really happening?

They brought the dogs out and Babette immediately darted under Téa’s wheelchair and began enthusiastically loving my daughter. The picture we took of that moment is still my favorite memory. 

In the years that followed, Babette became the answer to all three of Téa’s reasons for wanting a service dog. 

I went into the kitchen one day to see the fridge open. Babette was helping Téa get the juice box she wanted. 

At school, I would go to help in Téa’s classroom. After the teacher read a book about service dogs, kids flocked to Téa, gathering around her on the playground. For years, she felt like nobody would be able to love someone like her, but now people began to see beyond her disability. Babette was an ice breaker and a conversation starter. Téa was able to be seen as just Téa. 

However, she still needed a true best friend – that person who just gets you, who is there for you in the hard times and the good. 

On July 1, Téa’s beloved grandfather passed away. He was everything to her and she was devastated. 

Babette instinctively knew something was wrong. She stayed in Téa’s lap, comforting her and never leaving her side for days. That was the moment that Téa and Babette became best friends. 

That friendship would carry Téa through a lot of pain. With her condition, she is often in the hospital and is no stranger to surgeries. Once Téa had an especially bad time in surgery. She was in the recovery unit in Nashville, a sprawling hospital floor with 60-plus beds. After Téa’s surgery, we were walking into the unit and we heard this heartbreaking screaming and crying, and Babette just takes off. You have to understand that this dog is extremely well trained. It was the first time she had ever bolted from me. I was angry. I needed to search these curtain-divided rooms for a stray dog, but I also needed to see my daughter.

The nurse gave us the room number for Téa, and when we pulled back the curtain there was Babette in bed with her. 

Téa had stopped crying. 

In a hospital full of antiseptic smells and dozens of children, somehow Babette immediately found Téa. 

Today, more than 12 years later, these dogs have become an inseparable part of our family.

With the help of her service dog, Téa was able to walk across the stage at her high school graduation and receive her diploma. Babette is still a part of our family, although she is now retired. Argos, a full black lab, has picked up where Babette no longer can, helping Téa transition into adulthood. 

Babette and Téa are still inseparable. 

As a nine year old little girl, Téa had some big dreams. With the help of Canine Companions, all of those dreams have come true. She has greater independence, people see her, and she found her best friend. 

Special thank you to Debbie Horne with NextHome Momentum for sharing this amazing story with us!  

Debbie Horne

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Debbie Horne

As a full time professional Real Estate agent with 30 years of experience Debbie Horne brings a wealth of expertise in both residential and commercial Real Estate. She is renowned for delivering unparalleled personal service, ensuring your satisfaction every step of the way — from initial consultation to well beyond the completion of your transaction.

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