It’s a story about a boy and a dog – but not just any boy, and not just any dog.
Eleven-year-old Parker Strobeck has been living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy since he was three. One of the nine types of muscular dystrophy, it’s caused by the absence of a certain protein that keeps muscle cells intact. As a result, patients experience increasing muscle weakness.
“Parker has recently gone from being able to walk part of the time to now needing a wheelchair full time,” explained his mother, Kerri Strobeck. “One of the hardest things is looking back at things we know Parker used to be able to do that he can no longer do. We have our ups and downs, but we try not to dwell on the negatives and take life one day at a time.”
A recent positive is that Parker has actually started looking forward to his visits to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) clinic at Mercy Kids in Springfield, Missouri. His family travels from Omaha, Arkansas, but at the end of the trip is a jet black friend with a wet nose and calming personality. His name is Niles, and he’s one of two facility dogs working at Mercy Hospital Springfield. “When we met him, Parker instantly fell in love,” said Kerri.
“When they’re together, I just see pure joy on Parker’s face,” said Mercy occupational therapist Lindsi Johnson. She and Niles work as a team both in the hospital and at the MDA clinic.
“I love to lay on him and snuggle with him,” Parker said. He even got to play with him during MDA camp, where Niles and Johnson volunteered. He threw the ball for Niles and watched him swim to retrieve it.
Niles has been such a bright spot to the Strobeck family, they decided Parker would benefit from an assistance dog of his own. They’re now on the waiting list with Canine Companions for Independence, the organization that trained Niles and Johnson.
“We’re hoping an assistance dog will give Parker a greater sense of independence and confidence,” Kerri explained.
Johnson believes it will. “It will be an awesome ice breaker that will get to go everywhere with Parker,” she said. “Plus, a dog with specialized training can help him physically with things like picking up objects.”
The wait for a Canine Companions assistance dog can be anywhere from six months to two years. The organization not only screens dogs carefully for temperament, but trains them vigorously before matching them with the right person. When the time comes, Parker’s entire family will need to be trained so they can use the dog to its full potential.
Parker is dreaming of the day he gets matched with that special dog. “I imagine him to be a life-long friend,” he said. “I would be excited to take him to meet Niles, to play fetch with him and to talk to people about him and how he helps me.”