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Local disabled girl will finally get assistance dog

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Layla will be her hands—opening doors, picking up items, even answering the phone

Leanne Pruett of Saluda may never be able to run or jump like other kids her age, but the spunky 14-year-old will be able to walk the halls of Middlesex High School (MHS) next year right along with her classmates with the help of her new best friend, “Layla.”

Leanne, who was born with spina bifida, uses a wheelchair and walks with crutches, but her mobility and her independence will greatly increase this summer when she receives an assistance dog from New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs of North Carolina.

“I want to walk at school next year. I want to be independent,” said Leanne, who believes that will now happen.

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Leanne Pruett

Leanne, the daughter of Wanda Pruett of Saluda and David Pruett of Richmond and granddaughter of William and Susie Bristow of Stormont, is an eighth-grader at St. Clare Walker Middle School. She’ll join her older sister, Amanda, at MHS this fall.

When she enters MHS, Leanne will have at her side, Layla, a yellow Lab mix that has been training for nearly two years to be Leanne’s constant companion and best friend.

Layla will be delivered to the Pruetts in July. They’ve been to Moravian Falls in North Carolina twice for training sessions with the dog.

On one occasion, Leanne and her mother were in an outdoor park with the dog when Leanne dropped a water bottle from her lap onto the ground. Without prompting, Layla got up, picked up the water bottle with her mouth and put it back in Leanne’s lap.

“And I cried,” said Wanda. “And strangers were crying. It was only a bottle of water, but it was amazing.”

With the help of Layla, Leanne will not have to rely as much on her wheelchair. She can walk with her crutches and let Layla be her hands— opening doors, picking up items, and even answering the phone.

Layla is a rescued shelter dog, one of dozens saved by New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs.

According to Wanda, the dogs are screened for temperament, age, size and trainability and then undergo about two years of training. Many are now being trained by prisoners.

“So [the prisoners] are being rehabilitated too,” Wanda said.

The cost to house, feed, equip and train an assistance dog is about $10,000—a cost that many families dealing with a disability cannot afford.

“Living with a disability is expensive,” said Wanda. “Many people don’t realize how expensive. Insurance doesn’t pay for everything.”

Wanda, found New Mobility on the internet several years ago, and the organization requests that recipients participate in fund-raising efforts.

Leanne is getting Layla through New Mobility with the help of several local charitable organizations. Recently, three animal welfare groups in Lancaster County presented Wanda and Leanne with checks totaling about $2,000 toward the effort. Joyce Page presented the two with a $1,000 check from the Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, $500 from Friends of the Shelter, and $500 from the Shirley Perkins Memorial Fund for Animals.

Anyone wishing to donate on Leanne’s behalf may send a check to New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs Inc. at P.O. Box 659, Moravian Falls, N.C. 28654. Any extra funds received will go to benefit another needy, disabled person. 

posted 05.20.2009

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