Make-A-Wish San Diego

Written on June 6, 2017

In late 2016, friend and Shelter to Soldier supporter, Mark Stuart of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices La Jolla, referred the Make-A-Wish San Diego team to our Training Director, Graham Bloem. Excited to work with such an amazing organization, Graham spoke with Wish Coordinator, Katie; and after hearing about a very special little girl named Ariana, who had wished for a trained dog, he immediately felt compelled to help. Graham explained the differences between therapy dogs, emotional support dogs and service dogs, and they all agreed that Ariana’s needs were best suited for an ESA. She needs a well trained pet that can comfort her, provide her with unconditional love, make her smile during hard times and also give her family the joy of seeing her find love in a companion. Thankfully Ariana’s parents are very involved, with her mom being her main caregiver, so a fully trained service dog isn’t necessary at this time. Wanting Ariana to have her Emotional Support Animal as soon as possible, Graham knew he had to quickly find a suitable dog. He immediately thought of Abby.  Abby is a dog that was enrolled in our Shelter to Soldier program and  had only been with the program for a couple of months. She is an incredibly sweet Labradoodle that we adopted who loves kids, loves to cuddle and is very connected to her handler. Graham made the decision to pull her from the Shelter to Soldier program and give her the new purpose of being trained as Ariana’s ESA.  We matched Abby and Ariana and coached them through months of training lessons to get to the final graduation day where Ariana and her family were able to take Abby home. 

Ariana’s qualifying medical condition is Alexander Disease, a progressive and degenerative leukodystrophy disease.  She has, of recent, lost the ability to walk on her own. However she continues, through therapy, to maintain the use of her arms and hands, sit upright on her own, and is still able to speak (although labored), see, and show off her heartwarming smile.  Ariana’s medical team felt that granting her wish now, rather than later, has provided her with the opportunity to get the most joy and fulfillment from her dog.

“Being a part of Make-A-Wish and being able to help grant a wish to such a special, deserving little girl has been a very touching experience. The Make-A-Wish team is incredibly dedicated to their mission and they were a joy to work with. Ariana and her family have a special place in my heart and our entire team feels the same. Thank you to Mark for sending our name to Make-A-Wish San Diego and thank you to Ariana and Abby for being so open to each other and showing us what love and bravery look like” ~ Graham Bloem