By Mary Elizabeth Dial, Staff Correspondent
When Natalie Entrekin and her family adopted a young German Shepard/Great Dane mix from the Humane Society, they expected him to be a fun pet. Instead, they had found a new partner in her son’s struggle with muscular dystrophy.
Entrekin is the mother of Logan, 14, and Thomas, 11. Logan was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic mutation that breaks down his muscles, when he was 7 years old. According to his mother, Logan is almost completely dependent on his family after seven years with the disease. The degeneration began in his lower body, and today he struggles to lift his own arms. Despite the difficulties he has endured, Logan “makes the best of what he has to work with.”
Entrekin chose to homeschool her children after they left the fourth and second grades at Westbrook Christian School, and began devoting their free time to pursuing the boys’ interests. One of these interests, shared by the entire family, was animal rescue.
Thomas was the first to lay eyes on the dog, named Traveler by his previous family, during a trip to the Humane Society, and he insisted that his mother meet him. This first meeting between Traveler and Entrekin was love at first sight. He was attentive and bore a startling resemblance to the family’s dog Dylan, who had passed away not long before.
“I hadn’t chosen another dog to bring home, but the dog had chosen me,” Entrekin said about the decision to make Traveler a part of their two-child, four-dog family. Traveler became Tank and was enrolled in obedience classes at Kingdom K-9 in Ashville soon after his adoption, to work out any behavioral issues that would make it difficult for him to share a home with the family.
Sidney Washington, the owner of Kingdom K-9, was the first to suggest training Tank as a service dog for Logan. The family was not eligible for a service dog through any existing organization, as most will not provide dogs to families with other pets, and those that they investigated had waits up to four years long.
“The thought of Logan having a service animal had really been tucked away for a long time,” Entrekin said. “To be able to become a service dog, a dog must naturally posses many different qualities and have a specific temperament.” In addition, most service dogs are bred for the job and trained from puppyhood. She doubted that Tank would be able to complete the extensive training due to limited funds, his age and his lack of prior training.
After venting her concerns to a friend, Entrekin found that a GoFundMe page had been created to help the family raise money for Logan and Tank. Soon, they had received enough in contributions for a down payment on Tank’s obedience training.
Tank began full-time obedience school in August, during which he lives at Kingdom K-9. He will come home to live with the Entrekin family at the end of September. After moving home, he will need to complete six more weeks of obedience training. Tank is expected graduate on Halloween and can begin his service dog training after that. Right now, their biggest challenge is teaching Tank to submit to Logan rather than to Washington, who has been Tank’s primary authority at Kingdom K-9.
Humane Society executive director Christi Brown has also been following Logan and Tank’s journey together. She, like Entrekin, believes Tank’s story is a testament to the power of animal adoption and the potential of animals to benefit their owners. Brown has attended some of Tank’s training sessions to stay updated on his progress and is impressed with how far he’s come.
The whole team is proud of Tank’s progress and looking forward to his homecoming, although they will have to be sparing with their affection toward him while he works. According to Washington, too much vigorous playtime can will overstimulate Tank after his thorough training, but gentle pats will make the dog feel relaxed and happy. For Logan especially, Tank is not a pet; he is a teammate.
“With everything that this disease takes away from [Logan], it is so nice to be able to give him back a tiny bit of independence,” said Entrekin. She looks forward to the day that Tank becomes a fully certified service dog and can begin helping Logan with everyday tasks. For example, some of the most useful skills Tank will learn in his service dog training are opening doors and reteriving small objects. With Tank by his side, Logan will not have to depend on his family members for these things.
“To be able to take an animal that is of no specific breed & has had a tough start in life, adopt him out of the shelter, and train him locally to become a service dog is just amazing.” Entrekin believes that God placed Tank and his trainers in her family’s life, but knows that their journey with Tank is only beginning.
Tank’s training will take more time and more money, but the family is committed to seeing him become a service dog. The GoFundMe fundraiser has earned almost half of its goal in just a month. Stay updated on Tank’s progress by visiting the GoFundMe page, called “Service Dog for Logan,” learn more about Kingdom K-9 at their website and Facebook page, and learn more about the Humane Society at its website.