Noah and Service Dog Schooner Featured in Auburn University Article

Photo of Noah in a wheelchair and service dog Schooner side by sideNOAH AND SCHOONER 

By Neal Reid – Office of Communications and Marketing, Auburn University

Photo Credit: Auburn University Photographic Services.

For senior journalism major Noah Griffith, his 2-year-old Black Labrador-Golden Retriever mix Schooner is a boost on both the physical and social fronts. Griffith has suffered from Friedrich’s ataxia (FA) — an inherited disorder caused by a gene defect that affects the body’s nerves — since the age of 16 and requires a walker or wheelchair for mobility.

“He’s just such a good, calm and well-behaved dog that can go in pretty much any environment,” said Griffith, who hails from Phenix City, Alabama. “I use a walker a lot of the time, and he doesn’t pull me over and doesn’t forge ahead — things that a normal dog might do. I have poor balance and coordination because of my disease, and he’s not going to knock me off my feet.”

Griffith has utilized Schooner’s training, which came from Canine Companions since the two were connected in February to help him in several ways.

“His purpose physically is to help me conserve energy, because I do have fatigue,” said Griffith, who covers high school football for the Opelika Observer. “He can follow some commands, pick up dropped items, push door buttons and we’re working on him being able to turn the lights off and on. There are more commands we’ll work on as my disease progresses, but for now, he’s just a great companion and a good dog to have around.”

Having a service dog also has had a positive impact for Griffith on an interpersonal level.

“Socially, he can be a good conversation-starter, and he also helps take people’s attention off my disability,” said Griffith, a former sports reporter for The Auburn Plainsman student newspaper. “It’s just a much better way of starting interactions with people, who might not know what to say to me because I have a wheelchair or walker. Instead of strange looks or stares, I get people smiling at my dog, which feels good.”

Griffith’s efforts to improve accessibility on campus have been well-documented by the College of Liberal Arts*, and he hopes to lay a foundation for students with disabilities who may follow him to the Plains.

“I feel like what I’ve been through at Auburn with my situation is unique,” said Griffith, who hopes to carry his journalistic exploits to the next level as a sportswriter. “Maybe it will serve as an eye-opener and will set a path for future students who may have a disability and don’t even know about the opportunity to get a service dog. I feel like maybe I’m setting an example in that way, and I don’t feel like I have fewer opportunities than other students.

“My professors were very accepting and never questioned me bringing him to class. It’s a special circumstance to have a dog in your classroom, but they’ve been really great.”

Schooner — who knows he’s “on the job” when he’s wearing his vest — is the perfect companion for Griffith. He has taken the pup to sporting events and church, in addition to his classes.

“I don’t feel like I’m alone, my classmates all greet me and greet him, and it just makes simple things more fun,” he said. “Everyone likes well-behaved dogs, and he’s very friendly.”

Pup tales

  • Name: Schooner
  • Age: 2
  • Breed: Black Labrador-Golden Retriever mix
  • Allowed to pet him?: Yes, please
  • Personality: Friendly and laid back
  • Favorite treats: An occasional “Puppuccino” from Starbucks

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