COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Congratulations are in order for the WIS newsroom’s favorite “goodest” boy.
If you have been watching WIS Sunrise for the past year and a half, you already know the name "Winston.” He’s the yellow lab pup we have been following as he trains to become a service dog through Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, or “PAALS.” On Sunday, December 8, he will graduate!!
Winston, and trainer Liz Anderson, have been routine visitors at WIS as Winston went through his training to become a service dog, specifically to help a veteran with PTSD. Our favorite boy passed his final tests and after graduation this weekend, Winston will go to his recipient… a veteran named Danny Hill from Tega Cay, S.C., who has PTSD and mobility issues.
“It’s been a humbling experience… and rewarding as well,” said Liz. “Winston is hopefully going to be able to help Danny live a more normal life… do things and live life again.”
Danny can be triggered in public places, and when Winston senses Danny is beginning to disconnect, he is able to use some of the strategies he’s learned to calm Danny down and bring him back into the present. Liz said that Winston was able to pick up on Danny’s anxieties quickly during the meet and greet period where they work to match clients and dogs.
In one instance, Winston brought Danny out of a nightmare using another technique that's essentially a hard lick. Trainers said it brings Danny's attention away from the trigger, and back to the present moment.
“He's always got that eye up or he's listening,” Hill said. “He knows it's a 24 hour a day job. When I'm out of it, he's right there and that's the best thing I can see when I snap out of it.”
We asked Liz what it was going to be like watching Winston graduate this weekend. Liz was a familiar face on the WIS morning air as she showed off Winston’s new tricks and all the things he learned in their time together. She told us that it was a process training Winston – it was the first dog she trained from start to finish. Previously, she only trained puppies to a certain age. Through all the trials and tribulations that come with training a highly specialized service animal, Liz said it will be an emotional moment for her as she watches her beloved Winston go to his new home.
“It will be emotional. Bittersweet. I'm gonna tear up now just thinking about it,” Liz said, holding back tears. “It's rewarding, it's humbling. It's what Winston has worked so hard to do.”
Winston graduates Sunday, December 8th. He’ll go home to live with Danny and his wife in Tega Cay. Danny told WIS he is most excited to get back to church with Winston’s help… and to see a veterans memorial near his house.