PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A year ago, Debbie Kinney made a wish for her 8-year-old granddaughter.
She wanted the child, Angel Parsons, to receive the service dog that doctors said would significantly improve her quality of life.
Kinney knew that the only way to make that wish come true was to do what seemed nearly impossible at the time — raise $15,000 to purchase the animal.
Just seven months later, Kinney has emerged victorious.
The Presque Isle resident and her granddaughter will travel to Ohio in September to pick up the animal from 4 Paws For Ability Inc., an organization that provides service dogs across the globe to people with disabilities.
“I am just so pleased and so relieved,” she said Monday. “This is going to really improve her quality of life. Angel knows she is getting the dog, and she is so looking forward to it as well.”
The 8-year-old suffers from mitochondrial disease, which affects the ability of the body’s cells to function. According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, mitochondrial diseases result from failures of the mitochondria, specialized compartments present in every cell of the body except red blood cells. Mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90 percent of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth, according to UMDF. Less and less energy is generated within the cell when mitochondria fail. Cell injury and cell death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems begin to fail, and the life of the affected person is severely compromised.
The girl was born prematurely and began suffering from focal seizures, a heart murmur and other troubling symptoms when she was very young.
Parsons began having difficulty performing some tasks, showed a frequent lack of awareness of danger and had a tendency to get upset and anxious in public.
She was diagnosed with the disease after seeing a variety of doctors and specialists.
Kinney is her granddaughter’s legal guardian and wants her to have as normal a life as possible. Angel’s doctors told her that she could benefit from a service dog, and family and friends of the child quickly set out last year to raise the $15,000 needed to make that happen.
“We put donation buckets out in Aroostook County, in Augusta and in Waterville,” Kinney said. “We also had benefit suppers, car washes, we sold homemade dog bones, had bake sales and more. Local businesses have been very supportive and so have people all over the state.”
Kinney said that a number of supporters became aware of the situation last August when a story about Kinney’s effort ran in the Bangor Daily News. Kinney said that readers sent money and some even set out on their own to raise money for Angel’s dog.
One southern Maine child made and sold her own pillows, Kinney said Monday, and sent her and Angel the $88 that she made. Two local women also made and raffled a quilt that raised nearly $800 for the family.
Kinney said that she also heard from a friend about another contribution that was just as special to her.
“There was an elderly woman in a local store and she saw the donation bucket,” Kinney explained. “I know that most elderly people don’t have much to live on and have to save money all of the time, but this woman dropped four pennies into the bucket. It just shows you that no matter how hard times are, people will reach into their wallets to help someone in need.”
Kinney has spent the past year filming and documenting her granddaughter’s behavior in different situations and her seizures so the organization can pair her with the right breed of dog trained to meet her needs. She also has filmed the child’s interactions with a variety of dogs from large breeds to small breeds.
Angel still has trouble performing some tasks and has a lack of awareness about danger, which Kinney said is a serious issue.
“I have to have my eye on her and be focusing on her pretty much all of the time,” she said. “You never know when she is going to just take off and go out of the house or out of the yard. She just has no fear.”
The dog will be tethered to Angel at all times and will recognize when Angel’s seizures are taking place and provide emotional and physical support, Kinney said. During the focal seizures, Angel stares straight ahead, her gaze fixed. She does not lose consciousness, but is unaware of what is going on around her. Angel does not remember what happened after she comes out of her seizures and sometimes forgets things she learned during the day after a seizure occurs.
The dog will offer comfort during medical procedures and also serve as a distraction while the tests are going on, Kinney said. The dog also will protect the 8-year-old from danger.
The organization has not yet determined what breed of dog Angel will receive. While in Ohio, Angel and Kinney will undergo training with and without the dog.
Kinney said that Angel’s elementary school has been very supportive throughout the project and her teachers are excited for the child as well.
“I just really want everyone to know how much we appreciate this,” she said of the support from businesses and individuals throughout the state. “This really is going to change her life in a really positive way. I can’t put into words how much this means to us.”