SLOAN COLUMN: Maddie and Creek
Florence-Darlington Tech recently held its Spring Commencement and, as it normally does, the college’s public relations/information department sent out a press release and a few photos to local media outlets.
One of the photos immediately caught my attention. I knew in an instant there was a story to be told. The photo was of a pretty young lady striding across the stage in her cap and gown with a big smile on her face. She was about to be handed a piece of paper called a diploma that would affirm all the hard work she had put in for years and award her the official title of college graduate.
Nothing special, right?
Accompanying this young lady across the stage was a tuxedo-clad Labrador retriever. He appears to be calm and collected, not phased in any way by all the pomp and circumstance going on around him. His eyes and his attention seem to be completely focused on one thing – the person holding the leash and walking along side him.
The young lady is 19-year-old Maddie Atkinson. The well-dressed yellow lab is Creek, Maddie’s service dog. My first thought was that Maddie must be blind or have very poor eyesight. That’s not the case. Maddie can see perfectly. She says many people make the same mistake, so that made me feel a little better.
Maddie has severe anxiety attacks and Creek is her psychiatric service dog. She’s been dealing with the anxiety attacks, which can at times be severe and disabling, since she was seven or eight. Since Creek came into her life four years ago, she’s been able to manage the attacks much better.
If not for Creek, Maddie would not have been able to walk across that stage at FDTC to receive her associate degree in art. I’m not speaking of that singular moment. I mean she would not have been able to go to any of the classes, lectures, or labs. Her anxiety issues would have prevented it. Creek made it all possible, accompanying her to every single one of them.
“Every step of the way he was with me, whether it was taking tests in the MathHub, visiting teachers, speaking with counselors, going to the library, etc. he was there,” said Maddie. “Even during the COVID-19 shutdown he was with me in every single Zoom class, just laying there watching and waiting to help me if anything ever happened. For him to be included in a very special day was magical for me, because if it was not for him I would have never been able to walk that stage.”
It would seem Creek is also deserving of a diploma as well. He’s most certainly smarter than your ordinary mutt.
“(He) is my best friend,” Maddie recently wrote in a post on Facebook. “He is my life line. My partner. To you he may just look like a dog with some pretty snazzy clothes on him, but to me he is more than I could ever have asked for at such a desperate time.”
“Creek is a psychiatric service dog who's been trained to detect and interfere with my oncoming anxiety attacks as they are and can get so severe to the point of me passing out. They limit my ability to go in public comfortably and even do simple tasks like drive - one small attack is detrimental for me and can last up to an hour or longer.”
Expressing her gratitude that someone prayed for her service dog, Maddie said Creek was a bona fide superhero.
“Creek pulled me from the flames of a burning car when I tried to scramble back to retrieve material items,” she wrote. “He put his safety in danger because he refused to let me go and leave me that night. He still does refuse to let me go alone. So to have someone recognize his significance to me and pray for him and his safety as well really touched me.”
Speaking with Maddie on the phone, it was quite evident that to her Creek is far more than a service dog. Her passion for sharing with others the importance of service dogs, particularly psychiatric service dogs, was also very apparent.
Maddie’s dad bought Creek as a hunting dog, but his daughter attached herself to the 10-week-old yellow lab pup. She and her niece named him after a character in the movie, “Trolls: The Beat Goes On!” They have since gone through years of training together. And just as Creek was there for all of Maddie’s college instruction, Maddie was there as a part of all of Creek’s training.
Some tasks that Creek has been trained to do are: Detect oncoming panic attacks, perform deep pressure therapy to lessen the effects before they happen (i.e. laying across the chest to simulate a weighted blanket to help with calmness), retrieve medication, snacks, etc. when needed, disrupt emotional overloads (crying, shaking, tremors, zoning out, etc), to provide balance and assist Maddie when she is getting up from the floor following an episode, and to provide tactile grounding (interrupting dissociative episodes when she “zone’s out” before going into an attack.
“Creek has truly been my best friend and my lifeline,” Maddie said. “He’s given me back the independence that my disability stole from me, and every day continues to help me learn more about myself and learn to love myself. We have bad days, we have good days, but above all things he’s always there when I need him the most.”
We could all use a friend as loyal, loving and supportive as Creek. I’m pretty sure they both know how lucky they are to have one another.
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florencenews journal.com.