I am an award-winning author, motivational speaker, and an advocate for people with disabilities.
Here, you can learn more about the amazing service dogs who inspire both my writing and my purpose. Slugger, Kenda, and Pato each shared remarkable lessons and love while they walked by my side.
Now I am blessed yet again thanks to a young Black Labrador, Saint Francis Service Dog, Piper. I am excited to share our adventures! My dogs have taught me to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the courage to become. I am honored to do so with my service dog by my side!
What's Up, Pup?
Meet Fantastic-est Frankie!
She is the super-smart service dog who is partnered with her best friend, young Olivia Claire. The girl (who uses a wheelchair) and her Labrador team up each day to take on everything from household chores to the school science fair.
"This touching memoir will warm the hearts of dog lovers everywhere; Slugger is the heart and soul of the book, and his dedication, devotion, and love make him an unforgettable character. . . . will appeal equally to readers interested in coping or helping others cope with disabilities. . . This stirring, inspirational story will appeal to teen dog lovers, too.”
Fantastic-est Frankie's the coolest of cool!
The good clever pup went to service dog school.
And now she helps her friend, Olivia Caire
To do anything and go anywhere.
No matter what tasks or adventures await,
Can you guess how Frankie will help make them great?
Shining A Light
In loving memory of Carol Willoughby (1950- 2015)
Courage is more than lighting a single candle against the darkness; true courage is lighting that candle, and having the grace to pass its light to another. Carol Willoughby taught me this. Carol lived with the challenges of rheumatoid arthritis for many years. Yet her lesson – her light—transformed my life.
As a child born with cerebral palsy, I spent years struggling to cope with physical and emotional challenges. I was afraid that other people would see my disabled body and decide there wasn’t enough to love in the person they saw. I didn’t know how to believe in myself, so I took refuge in silence and shadows.
Even as I faced these life challenges, Carol was discovering her own life’s dream. The dream that began around her kitchen table grew … until it began to ignite dreams for others. By the time my husband and I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, Saint Francis Service Dogs had just become a reality—one supported by amazing professionals and volunteers throughout the community. Carol’s enthusiasm and leadership made it all possible.
My life turned brighter from the first moment Carol became a part of it. By her own beautiful example, Carol taught me to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to become. Because of her, I have discovered possibilities where once I encountered only obstacles. Such discoveries have brought me a sense of purpose and joy.
Carol’s light has brightened my journey beyond compare. It also shines brilliantly through her family, through her dear friends, and through the amazing legacy that is Saint Francis Service Dogs. I feel Carol’s light when I remember my beloved Saint Francis Service Dogs, Kenda and Pato. I see it now when I look into the eyes of my new service dog, Piper.
Carol’s light also illuminates the lives of many others. It touches the little boy whose dog alerts prior to his life-threatening seizures so that his family can provide the critical intervention he needs. It touches the elegant lady who credits her service dog with helping her recover her ‘inner diva’ in spite of M.S. It touches the spirited teenager with cerebral palsy whose hospital visits are easier and less frequent thanks to his service dog.
I know that many hearts join me in grieving the loss of Carol Willoughby now. How could we not? Yet throughout her life, Carol showed us all that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared …
Thank you, Carol, for the countless gifts you offered – your love, your joy, your laughter, and your inspiration. Most of all, thank you for sharing your light. That light glows in many loving hearts now. It always will.
Together we shine!
Did You Know?
Service dogs can learn as many as fifty different tasks to help children and adults with disabilities! These devoted canines provide assistance around the house and around town. They are good natured, hard working, and fun. And did I mention they love to learn?
If you like to learn too, check out these helpful links:
No matter where they go or what they do, Frankie and Olivia Claire work together. Olivia brushes Frankie’s teeth; Frankie uses those pearly whites to retrieve things her young partner drops. It’s clear their partnership is about mutual respect and cooperation. And they quickly discover it is about so much more.
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When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me that every part of life offers the promise of something good. Growing up with congenital cerebral palsy, I thought my grandfather was wrong—my CP only brought pain, hardship, and frustration. My beloved service dogs have helped me find that something good—even amid the physical, emotional and social challenges of CP. For me, the single good thing about having a disability is having a service dog.
Each of my service dogs has helped me realize my passion and my purpose. That's why I am committed to spreading a positive message of service dog partnership (Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Dogs). Whether through speaking engagements (Allstate presentation), interviews (Off the Beaten Page, Jen's Jewels), or involvement in charitable and educational projects (Centre for Learning Resources, India), I am honored to further one of the most profound lessons my dogs have taught me: that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared!
One of the things I love most about what I do is the opportunity to meet so many new friends. I am honored that we have been able to celebrate our common bonds as well as our unique experiences.
I am also humbled to know that the messages shared in Fantastic-est Frankie and A Dog Named Slugger continue to make a positive difference worldwide!
I'll do my best to keep making that difference ... with my service dog by my side.
Piper and I look forward to sharing our adventures here and on Facebook.
We'd love to hear from you!