Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Lisa Vaught is a creative writer with a passion for art and digital photography. She is has an assistance dog named Frax who helps her in her day to day life, and also helps Lisa educate others on the great work that service dogs do in communities. I am grateful that Lisa has taken some time to share her story with me.
Lisa was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2000, and in 2003 had to start evolving her work due to a seizure disorder. Although this changed her career path, she continued to help others through a virtual nursing call centre role which she was able to do from home.
After a 24 year career in nursing Lisa was forced to retire in 2011 due to health reasons. She volunteers at Canine Assistants (http://www.canine assistants.org) where they train service dogs and partner them with children and adults who have physical disabilities or other special needs.
Lisa now spends her time focusing on her secondary college degree, artwork, and creative writing. Her current project is a blog site on the life of a service dog: ‘My Helper Wears a Fur Suit’.
Interview with Lisa
What do you think is your main mission in life?
I think my main mission in life is to help people believe that whatever life throws their way, they can still accomplish their hopes and dreams; Perhaps in a different way than they envisioned, but still achieve them!
What is your strongest passion?
My strongest passion has to be getting the word out about how a service dog can turn a person’s life around. I’m living proof of it. I would wish others to know the miracle that these dogs can provide in their lives (if they are disabled), or in a family or friends lives.
Why did you decide to get into nursing?
I’ve always been fascinated by the human body and science in general. I’ve been happiest when giving back to someone else. It’s the best feeling in the world to help someone out that really needs a helping hand. Teaching others how to stay healthy and seeing that your health education and teaching brings others a healthy and happy life. The avoidance of developing or worsening of diseases is very rewarding as well.
What Inspires you to help others?
The believe God works miracles through each one of us.
How did you get partnered up with your first service dog Jet and now Frax?
I was looking for service dog organizations when I first started having my seizure disorder. Every one of them was very expensive, and expected the applicant to pay for the training, which was and still is way out of my financial reach. It’s out reach financially for most people. Then I stumbled over Canine Assistants and the rest, as they say, is history!
What type of dog breeds are service dogs?
Here in the US the usual dogs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepard Dogs, and the hybrids: Golden-Labs and Labradoodles. Jet was a Golden Lab and so is Frax.
What are service dogs trained to do?
There are a mind-boggling array of different service dogs, but the most common are Seizure Response dogs, Mobility dogs, Assistance dogs, Diabetic Assistance dogs, Hearing Response Dogs and the most widely known~ Seeing Eye dogs.
Who is eligible to be partnered with a service dog?
Anyone who has a demonstrable physical or mental disability. With Canine Assistants there is a significant amount of paperwork needed from a person’s attending physician attesting to their need and benefit of a service dog.
How does Frax help you in your day to day activities?
He helps me walk without tripping and falling, picks up things I drop and brings them back to me. He helps to drag the laundry out to our laundry room, and drag it back in. He is able to respond to a seizure, get me to a safe place and get help. He has been able (since the first six months with me) to predict the onset of a seizure 10 minutes before I have one. This gives me the chance to take medication that either prevents or lessens the seizure. At this time his assistance has kept me seizure-free for well over a year and a half. Not all dogs can do this, it’s not trainable, it depends how tight the canine/human bond is (if the dog can predict).
Does Frax go everywhere with you? Are there any places he can’t go or is not allowed into?
Yes, Frax goes everywhere that I go. He’s my shadow! The only place Frax cannot go is a sterile operating room, or a place where he might be exposed to radiation or be in danger.
How has your life changed after having a service dog?
My life has changed for the better in so many ways: I’m no longer afraid to be alone in my own home for fear of a seizure that will fell me in a dangerous area. I have had a marked decrease in actual seizures, a phenomenon that Canine Assistants has noted over many years of placing their response dogs. Probably due to decreased stress, that’s just my guess.
Because my seizures are under control naturally, I have been able to return to driving on a limited basis. If I run out of milk or eggs and need to run to the store, or if I want to get library books, I can get in our handicap van and drive there myself. I don’t have to wait on my husband to drive me, or ask a friend or family member to take me to doctor’s appointments or go grocery shopping. In the state of Tennessee in the US, if you haven’t had a seizure in six months, you may return to driving.
A familiar side-effect of MS is crushing fatigue. Since Frax is able to assist with my walking, I have less total fatigue over the course of a day. He helps with picking up things that I drop, and braces me when I have to bend over, so I don’t fall. Helps me get up if my legs decide they can’t help me get up, and so many other things. After several years it becomes a seamless dance during the day. He is beside me, and he helps me move without fear of falling. Over the course of a day that adds up to decreasing the total load of fatigue.
Frax breaks down the barriers of disability. When I first got my wheelchair, nick-named ‘pinkie’ (it’s bright pink!), it could have sunk me into depression. It’s a serious thing to have to make the decision that you need to sometimes use a wheelchair because your legs have gotten weak, or you need to conserve your energy so you can get out and about. I received my wheelchair a month before I received Jet. I was so occupied with Jet and fascinated by the various wonders that he brought to my life I was too busy to worry about pinkie. Pinkie just became what it was~ a way to conserve my energy and get out and about.
Lisa also wanted to share this fantastic story below with Freedom2Do readers. Enjoy!
A rather cool story is how Frax got his unusual name. At the time Frax was born in May of 2009, there was great excitement. Jennifer Arnold, who had started Canine Assistants, had written a book all about Canine Assistants, and PBS decided that they wanted to film a story about it. A director and film crew were sent out from Hollywood to film at the farm.
The director’s name is Danny Moder. He is married to the movie star Julia Roberts and they have several children together. At the time that Mr. Moder was directing the film, his son was about three years old.
A great treat and honor is when puppies are named at the farm. Jennifer Arnold asked Mr. Moder if he would like to name the litter of pups. He of course said “Yes!” Each litter has to have a ‘theme’. That is a good way of not repeating the same names over and over and causing confusion. For example, Jet’s litter was the ‘rocker’ litter, and all the names were after rockstars! Jet was named after Joan Jett and the Blackhearts! Lol.
So, Mr. Moder decided to have the theme be the ‘surfer’ litter since they were from California! They would name all the pups after surfers. Except they ran out of names when they came to Frax. Here was this big puppy with loooong legs, loooong ears, looong tail; Just a long lanky rather ‘all arms and legs’ puppy. No-one could think of a name. Mr. Moder went home to California with the promise he would come up with a name as soon as possible and let Canine Assistants know what it was!
Danny Moder and Julia Roberts were at dinner with their young son. He was about three years old at the time. He knew the story about the puppies and he was determined to name that puppy! He pestered his mom and dad throughout dinner about it. Finally Mr. Moder said “Okay, fine, you can name the puppy. What do you want to name it?”, “Frax!” his young son said with determination! To this very day nobody has a clue where he came up with the name. The astounding thing is, it fits him! This long, kinda odd looking puppy had the oddest name they had ever heard; So Frax is likely the one and only Frax!
And that is how Frax got his name!
What a wonderful story! Thank you for your time Lisa. I wish you and Frax every happiness.
Thank you, and thank you for your interest in my blog (Frax and I)! It’s been a pleasure.
To find out more about Lisa and Frax, please check out Lisa’s blog: