Service dog brightens boy's outlook

News photo by Emily Thiel Jaxx and Talon at Birdsboro Elementary Center

When first grader Talon Cleveland falls, it’s Jaxx, a one year old pure bred German Shepherd medical alert service dog, who is there to pick him up. Thanks to one special “man’s best friend,” Cleveland is more outgoing and social, as well as safer at school with Jaxx by his side.

As a child, it was medically recommended that a service dog would greatly benefit the young boy. Cleveland’s asthma needs to be monitored, especially when the humidity rises. Wheezing for oxygen can be terrifying; the seven-year-old relies on nebulizers and inhalers to give him relief by opening his lungs. Before the assistance of Jaxx by his side, Talon’s grandfather would often be called from work to the school to deal with issues. Having a service dog accompanying him to school allows his grandparents to know Talon is protected without them there.

“He’s going to be the eyes,” Christine Cleveland, Talon’s grandmother, said. Jaxx provides immediate, “at that second” type of response which provides a relief for his grandparents.

“Asthma is severe. A person can die from an asthma attack,” Cleveland said about Jaxx. She recalled that when he was younger, her grandson’s bronchitis would jump immediately to pneumonia. “He has had pneumonia nine times,” she said. The dog is specially trained to sense Talon’s breathing and respiratory issues. When you ask Talon why he needs Jaxx, he answers “in case I fall.”

When Talon does fall, Jaxx is trained to circle around him to assist him in assisting Talon to get back on his feet. Jaxx reacts to Talon, posturing a stance that allows the young boy to grasp hold of the harness to hoist himself up. “This is a dog that was proven to brace a 200 pound man,” Erik Cleveland, Talon’s grandfather said. “When his legs cramp up or give him a problem, the dog will whine, fidgit or bark to alert us.” Jaxx is known to bark, pace, or drag the couple out of bed late at night if their grandson may be in a health risk.

When Talon is distressed, Jaxx reacts. Though he is a piece of “medical alert and mobility equipment,” Jaxx and Talon have become friends.

“They’ve had such a bond in the last month,” Cleveland said. “When you take the leash and vest off of him, [Jaxx] still works.”

“It’s a learning process,” Talon’s first grade teacher Cindy Reed said of the experience. “The dog is helping...Talon has become more responsive and outgoing.”

Prior to Jaxx’s presence in the classroom, Reed prepared her students by incorporating stories about service dogs into the lesson.

A list in the classroom of Dos and Don’ts for the students is made visible on a sign near the door. To satisfy interest, the classmates were allowed to pet the dog once and then had to resume to regular service dog rules.

Jaxx trained for five months with the organization “1Boy4Change” in Tennessee before being paired with Talon to finish the first grade at Birdsboro Elementary Center.

Together Talon and Jaxx passed the public access test, a required demonstration of how the duo operate in public. As a service dog, Jaxx accompanies Talon in public, out to eat and even his soccer practices with Exeter Youth Soccer Association.

The pair are looking forward to spending time together during summer, strengthening their bond before Jaxx accompanies Talon to the second grade in the fall.

About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.