Michelle had grown up with labs and loved animals. She was planning to become a veterinarian when, in her senior year at Colorado University, Boulder, she decided that wasn’t the right path. She worked for a while as a veterinary technician, then realized that nursing needed many of the same skills. “So I went to nursing school, and it was while I was in nursing school that I had my accident.”
While at Craig Hospital for rehabilitation, Michelle met long-time puppy raiser Jeni Exley. “Jeni had Falzone at the time, and I learned all about Canine Companions from her.” Canine Companions requires a year post-injury before an application can be submitted for a service dog. Michelle laughed. “I had all the paperwork, and I think I submitted it one year to the day.” Michelle said that she knew it would take a few years and she knew she wasn’t ready then. But in that “it was meant to be” sense that Canine Companions seems to specialize in, she was matched with Rumba, a female lab golden mix, at the team training in May of 2013. Michelle said “I was finally in a position where a dog was really helpful. The timing was perfect.”
Michelle and her husband Devon, made a video of Rumba and Michelle working as a team. They intended it to show people what a real service dog looks like (as compared to a fake service dog), and the video has gone viral.
These days, Michelle works from home on the Nursing Faculty at Western Governor’s University, an on-line program based in Salt Lake City. Michelle is responsible for mentoring nearly a hundred nursing students – giving them tutoring, coaching, advice. In an earlier job, working in a clinic as a diabetes educator, Michelle’s office mate was always compensating, picking up things Michelle had dropped. Working at home, while her husband is off at work, means that there’s no one around to pick things up. “Without Rumba, I would not be able to work from home.”
Rumba was raised by Mary Lusso Segall in Irvine, California and the Segall family is now close friends with Michelle. “I know not all graduates keep in touch with their dog’s puppy raisers,” Michelle said, “but I want you to know that you really are changing a life. These dogs are such an incredible gift.”
Click here to see how Rumba helps Michelle everyday.