Community Builder: Midlands woman with cancer continues to help train service dogs

Published: Jun. 5, 2019 at 7:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As she fights Stage 4 cancer, a Midlands woman continues to volunteer her time to help train future service dogs.

Mitzie Renwick says it’s because she believes the group Palmetto Animal Assisted Living Services, also known as PAALS, is changing lives. Those who know Mitzie insist she’s a big part of that.

“What's amazing is that Mitzie is here all the time in between her medical appointments and treatments, Mitzie is just begging for other things to do to help other people,” said Jennifer Rogers, Executive Director of PAALS.

Renwick says it was in late 2015 that she felt the urge to help.

“I mentioned to my husband that I sure would like to volunteer with service dogs, but I had no idea where,” Renwick said. “No more than two weeks after I said that, WIS had a special segment about PAALS and this building and how they needed help overcoming a flood.”

While Renwick was a full-time teacher, she and her husband became a weekend foster family for PAALS

“I just fell in love with it,” Renwick said. “I have one dog at the house, and he loves having PAALS dogs in and out of the house, and it just gave us purpose.”

It was a purpose that became a profession.

In 2016, Renwick retired from teaching to taking on a full-time role at PAALS. Just a year and a half later, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Renwick says was able to come back to work for a short time, but eventually more tumors were found.

“It won't go away, but we're hoping the medication will hold it steady for as long as possible,” said Renwick. “So as long as my body can tolerate it.”

Renwick says as long as it does, she’ll be volunteering her time. She adds while she’s giving her time, she’s getting so much more back.

“I have a lot of side effects from the medication, and so I did break down just a few weeks ago,” said Renwick. “And this one,” she motioned to Doc her current foster dog, “It’s how he learned to do a hug. I hadn't taught him to hug yet, he just came up on my lap.”

From a hug to a hard hat, nominating Renwick as a Community Builder was her fellow humans’ way of showering her fighting spirit with love. PAALS set up this mock meeting for the surprise.

“I'm going to break in here,” said Matt Mungo as he walked into the meeting. “Mitzie, I am here because of your work with PAALS, and even through your own struggles-- you have been nominated and chosen as the Mungo Homes in WIS Community Builder.”

Renwick looked shocked, was confused because she had nominated PAALS Executive Director Jen Rogers for the award. She had no idea one of her fellow colleagues had nominated her, as well.

“No, that’s Jen!” said Renwick, before she realized Mungo was handing her the hard hat. “Oh my goodness.”

Mungo continued: “You'll get a $1000 check to the charity of your choice, so thank you and keep up the good work!"

“I thought this was an honor that Jen definitely deserved,” said Renwick. “I didn't feel like this was something that I deserved, but I'm grateful and very happy to get a donation for PAALS.”

“That was the best part for me is that she really didn't think it was about her,” said Rogers. “Because so much of her life is not about her but about helping others.”

Renwick says as long as she has a say that’s not going to change. “I'm not going anywhere. Nope, PAALS has been too good to me,” she added.

Renwick says her $1,000 donation from the Michael J. Mungo Foundation will go to PAALS. PAALS says it can cost anywhere from $30,000-$40,000 to train a service dog.

If you’d like to learn more about PAALS, visit their website by clicking here.

Mitzie Renwick says it’s because she believes the group PAALS- Palmetto Animal Assisted Living...
Mitzie Renwick says it’s because she believes the group PAALS- Palmetto Animal Assisted Living Services- is changing lives. Those who know Mitzie insist she’s a big part of that. (Source: Mary King/WIS)

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