Gavin and Service Dog Epic

man in a wheel chair with his service dogIt’s not every day that people – or most dogs – get to see and smell majestic animals from around the world while at work: elephants, gorillas, and giraffes. It’s even more rare for those same animals to witness an expertly trained service dog in action. But Gavin and his Canine Companions service dog, Epic, have a job that’s anything but ordinary.

Gavin, who is 20 years old, works in the gift shop at the prestigious San Diego Zoo and often visits the zoo exhibits outside of work hours. Due to a progressive neuromuscular disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia, Gavin uses a variety of mobility devices and needs help with daily tasks. That’s where Epic shines as Gavin’s canine partner.

“Epic makes work more fun. He’s a perfect gentleman and gets a lot of compliments from zoo guests,” Gavin remarks. “During our trips around the zoo with friends and family, we love watching Epic smell the zoo smells. He even goes on the Skyfari over the zoo with me.”

In addition to helping Gavin in the zoo gift shop, Epic has his plate full as Gavin’s classmate. With a goal of earning an associate’s degree in kinesiology, Gavin and Epic attend classes at San Diego Mesa Community College. Epic enthusiastically retrieves dropped pens, wallets and school supplies. He also makes sure Gavin’s backpack is in reach, dragging it closer when needed.

Gavin experiences falls due to a loss of balance and coordination. Before Epic, Gavin’s mother would check on him constantly to make sure he was safe. Now, if Gavin needs assistance, Epic will bark, alerting the family. Epic has given Gavin’s family a sense of peace and Gavin has gained self-confidence to tackle new challenges at home and in public.

“Epic doesn’t care if I have a disability,” Gavin says. “Together we can face anything. He helps me stay positive and move forward. Epic makes using mobility devices kind of okay.”