If you ask 10-year-old Stryder about his life, he will enthusiastically tell you that one benefit of living with spina bifida is that he can have a cool service dog. Stryder’s spina bifida impacts his legs, the way he walks and how his body grows. He uses crutches and a wheelchair to help get around, but his stamina runs out very quickly, often resulting in Stryder being left out and left behind with his peers.
In 2019, Stryder and his family were matched, free of charge, with the coolest service dog around – “His name is Fonz, F-O-N-Z,” Stryder tells everyone he meets. Fonz is trained to help Stryder be more independent by retrieving his crutches, opening doors, and staying with Stryder during an hour-long, daily medical procedure.
Due to his spina bifida, Stryder often relied on his parents and peers for help. That changed when Fonz entered the picture. “Stryder has someone to look after for the first time, instead of the other way around,” says his mom, Becca. “Their bond is unbelievable. Fonz sits at the door 10 minutes before Stryder’s school bus arrives. He is devoted to Stryder.”
And Stryder agrees: “I like to cuddle with Fonz. He’s my very best friend, and I just love him so much!”
Stryder is no longer left behind because Fonz brings other people to him. “Fonz is his favorite topic,” shares Becca with a smile. “There are no strangers in our life – at least not for long – now that Stryder has the confidence to share Fonz with those he meets.”
The connection between Stryder and Fonz has been life-changing. “I saw their connection the first night we had Fonz,” Becca recalls. “Fonz was just there for him all night. It was symbolic of the unconditional love these dogs have, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a special bond.'”