Kyle Chambers and Mobility Assist Dog Rio
By Sarah Schaff
Imagine a child first learning to walk by following a path of items that steady their stride from Point A to Point B. They rely on a wall, person, or piece of furniture to catch them if they lose their balance. This strategy generally only lasts as long as it takes to develop the strength and stability to independently walk, but the need for help balancing never ended for Kyle Chambers of Roseville, Minnesota.
Kyle has adapted to life after being born four months early and with cerebral palsy by adhering to a trail of stationary objects or walls. If he isn’t able to catch himself on something, once he falls he can’t get up on his own. Open spaces are a danger-zone for Kyle; a fall there meant crawling to the nearest thing that could support his standing process. However, since walking with his new partner, a two-year-old Black Labrador Retriever named Rio, strolls are now a safe and gratifying activity that allow Kyle to travel more and farther than ever before.
Kyle used to need a walker but the obvious sign of “being different” lead to a lot of negative social encounters, fear, and anxiety while growing up, which lead him to prefer solitude. It’s been an exceptional experience to have a form of adaptive equipment that enhances his social life, as Rio provides innumerable therapeutic benefits for Kyle. Even through team training, Kyle says the biggest challenge to overcome was “training myself to understand that making mistakes is okay. I have pretty noticeable anxiety and depression, and when I mess up at something I always think the world will end. After working with Rio and [my client service coordinator] for the time I have, I am slowly learning that things will be okay.”
Beyond being mobile security, Rio retrieves items for Kyle so he doesn’t risk falling by leaning over. He helps Kyle on steps and curbs as well as uneven ground, and if Kyle does end up on the ground, Rio is right there to brace and help him get back up. To help Kyle from becoming off-balance, Rio can tug open doors and drawers around the apartment, as well as reach the handicap buttons that open doors.
Family has played an enormous role in his life as a pillar of support, both figuratively and literally. For his entire life, Kyle’s mother has helped him walk, safely function, and most recently live on his own, but now she is finding her own sense of independence thanks to Rio. She has delegated many tasks to Rio, and he is happily taking on the responsibility.
When asked how it felt to be done with initial team training, Kyle wisely replied, “I don’t think ‘done’ is the word I’d use. Because as long as we’re both around and working with each other, training is always happening.”
Kyle is profoundly grateful for all that made it possible for Rio to give him a new lease on life as he remarks, “Thank you so much, you have helped me get my life back together… I’m not alone anymore.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Dawn Johnson, MacKenzie Smith and family
Puppy Raiser: The inmate handlers at Stanley Correctional Institution
Name-A-Puppy Donor: Seagate Technology
Special Thanks: Autumn Meyer and Wade Schlichting
You: Thank you for your donations!