Category Archives: Ankylosing Spondylitis



Laurie is SO proud of all the amazing work 17 year-old Charlotte and her SD Dakota have done – they are both wise beyond their years!

Charlotte was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis at the tender age of 12. Is an inflammatory disease that can cause some of the vertebrae in your spine to fuse together. This fusing makes the spine less flexible and can result in a hunched-forward posture. Charlotte’s started in her hips, and has had increasing limited mobility in her spine due to AS. She also started developing seizures, and periods where she is very dizzy and loses her sight. She also experiences migraines about twice per week. These are all common in patients with AS. Ankylosing spondylitis has no known specific cause, though genetic factors seem to be involved. In particular, people who have a gene called HLA-B27 are at significantly increased risk of developing AS. Charlotte’s neurologist started her many months ago on a prescription medication especially for AS, but it can also cause side effects that often mimic problems directly from AS. Unfortunately, the medication did exacerbate all of Charlotte’s symptoms – the seizures, sight problems, dizziness – so now, she is off the medication, but it takes up to a year to get out of her system completely. At that point, any damage that has been done usually goes away – but there is a SMALL possibility that the damage from the drug might be permanent. I told Charlotte she will NOT be one of those who is affected permanently! Positive outlook always!!!! Her wonderful mother, Amy, is dedicated to following through with all Charlotte’s doctors looking for an answer and hoping for recovery – which I believe will happen just because Charlotte’s positivity and her dedication to keep moving and trying is the first step!!

Charlotte is a beautiful, gentle, kind, and always cheerful (at least when I see her, her mom says) young lady, who has an incredibly wonderful bond with her now Service Dog, Dakota – a lab mix. Charlotte currently uses a walker with a seat to help her keep stablized, and so that she can sit when she starts to get dizzy or tired. But she has pushed through every training session no matter how she is feeling – and Dakota has learned to do everything she needs to to help them pass the Public Access Test!

We held the test at Bass Pro Shop – my favorite place for PATs. They performed each and every part of the test flawlessly! Charlotte has a soft voice, but has learned to make it sound assertive when she is giving Dakota commands. Dakota did a wonderful sit/stay and down/stay even with all the activity around her! (I purposefully picked 5 pm to do the test hoping the store would be bustling – which it was). Dakota heels perfectly next to Charlotte’s walker, even when she did the “drop leash” portion! That was difficult for Charlotte because she has trouble bending over to pick up the leash, but she did it! We also played some hid and seek to make sure that if Dakota strayed for any reason, she would immediately come back to Charlotte.

We did several meet and greets with male and female adults and with children, and now Dakota can stay in a “sit” position (Charlotte makes sure Dakota is in a sit before any petting is allowed), and everyone just loved Dakota! It’s hard for Dakota to keep her wiggly little behind still when she meets people because she is so friendly, but she manages to keep it down for the meet and greets! They can navigate through tight aisles, around “obstacle courses” with Dakota in a maintained heel, and Dakota even loved the elevator! Charlotte knows how to enter and exit elevators with her walker making sure Dakota’s body and tail make it through the doors safely. Dakota watched the fish in the pond, did not startle at all by created distractions, and could walk right by dropped treats when Charlotte told her to “leave it”.

Dakota is wonderful at restaurants – one time they were seated right next to the kitchen door where waiters were constantly going by – and she stays in perfect position! One thing I wanted to work hard on that is not on the test is having Dakota walk up and down the stairs with Charlotte, because at home, Charlotte has to use whatever she can to stabilize her as she moves, and she has to come down the stairs backward so she doesn’t fall forward. So I first walked Dakota VERY slowly up the stairs with one hand on the railing – step, wait, step, wait – and Dakota stayed near my leg and patiently walked up the stairs. Then, we did the same coming down the stairs backward – step, wait, step, wait – trying to keep Dakota as close to my leg but not getting in the way so I could possibly trip over her. Then Charlotte practiced this, and they did so well!! They will continue to work on this at home, so that eventually, Dakota will act as a counterbalance next to Charlotte’s leg as she also holds onto the rail.

I gave Dakota extra points for behaving perfectly in the handicapped bathroom stall with Charlotte, where she stayed still and wasn’t fazed by the air dryer!!

I am SO, SO proud of this wonderful team. Charlotte will be attending college when she graduates from her special high school, and her mother’s biggest fear is that Charlotte might have a seizure when in the shower and hurt herself. So, even though we finished the PAT, we will continue to work on things like seizure alerts (Charlotte laughed when I told her she is going to have to fake them so I can teach Dakota to respond properly!)

In one remarkable twist of fate, when we were getting off the elevator, we met a Wounded Warrior who had the same type of walker as Charlotte. He had suffered severe TBIs and had 3 brain surgeries. The woman that was with him saw how his eyes lit up when he saw Charlotte and Dakota together, and the woman with him told us how much he would love a Service Dog – but that he had been told by another organization he was not eligible because he had a walker! We talked extensively to them about this, and although he had difficulty speaking, he was able to communicate how much he would love to have a Service Dog, especially one that was as hypoallergenic as possible, and he was able to speak some slow but clear sentences. The woman with him said that this was the most clearly she had heard him speak for a long time! He was so gentle and smiled so much petting Dakota. It was a truly beautiful moment. They happened to be going to a meeting for Wounded Warriors on the top floor of the Bass Pro Shop, and the woman asked for as many business cards as I could give her so that she could talk about what she witnessed with Charlotte to the other Wounded Warriors!

Again, congratulations to this beautiful team. They are truly an inspiration to me and to everyone who meets them!