From homeschool to Oxford with the help of an Assistance Dog

In 2011 when Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services executive director, Jennifer Rogers, first met Jory Fleming, she didn’t know whether a service dog trained through PAALS could help with all three of his disabilities.  Jory’s specific goals to become independent enough to attend college inspired PAALS’ director to take on the project.  No one at PAALS knew what they would begin to unlock in Jory’s potential. Jory’s aspirations, his mother’s determination, and PAALS commitment to specializing dogs for each person they serve were the perfect recipe for success when they added the “special sauce” of a yellow English Labrador Retriever named Daisy.  And by success, PAALS never imagined that team Jory/Daisy would be heading to Oxford this fall on a Rhodes scholarship.

Jory with his assistance dog Daisy

Jory’s academic accomplishments, even in high school, proved that the world of academia was at his command. He had already found an inner peace in interacting with a pet bird, so Jory and his mom understood the potential animals hold for helping humans communicate and interact with the world. Jory’s ability to relate to animals far outweighed his ability to communicate with people, but PAALS needed to find the right assistance dog to provide him the freedom from medical limitations and empower him to achieve his dreams. Maureen Leary, PAALS instructor and Rogers believed that Jory’s potential could be unlocked with Daisy after watching them interact during visits to the Fleming’s home prior to being matched.

Leary had her work cut out for her to train a dog to assist with a combination of cerebral palsy, autism, and a metabolic disorder that requires a gastrostomy tube and feeding pump. Jory needed a medical alert dog, an autism service dog, and a mobility dog- one dog, three jobs- to keep him safe and enable him to attend college independently.  He needed his service dog to alert to his medical pump’s tube kinking, which could create a life-threatening situation.  Daisy was taught to listen for this, even when no one else could such as at noisy college games and at night.  Jory also required his dog to help mitigate the effects of autism.  Daisy was taught to press and lean on pressure points to alleviate the anxiety that being in crowded college areas caused.  He also needed a dog to help with physical limitations. Jory used AFO leg braces and a ski pole for balance. Daisy was taught to retrieve things Jory dropped so he did not have to spend energy he couldn’t spare and put himself in an unbalanced situation.

When Jory and Daisy’s team training first began, Jory wasn’t sure that being constantly attached to Daisy through her leash would be any comfort for him. Autism made him hypersensitive to the touch and feel of the leash on his legs and in his hands; but once Daisy nudged him that first time to let him know that that his medical alert beeper was going off, Jory knew that Daisy would be his key to independence. He now could maneuver in the real world without constantly worrying that the line of life-saving formula constantly being pumped into his stomach might kink and he not hear the soft beeping sound the machine made.

Once Jory started the University of South Carolina with Daisy by his side, he thrived on the college scene. Jory found new confidence in walking to class using Daisy for balance.  She alerted him if a backpack of life-saving formula was not working properly.  Daisy took away the social stresses that autism placed on Jory’s shoulders. Jory says the following about the role his service dog has played in college, “Daisy makes it possible for me to be more independent and fully experience these formative years of the college experience. She’s a wonderful friend and without her support I wouldn’t be where I am today. She makes it possible for me to explore campus and has enabled me to communicate with and meet new people at USC.”

Jory enjoyed attending college sporting events and became a regular at all University of South Carolina sporting events. The head basketball coach even got to know Jory personally and honored him during halftime at one of the games as an inspiration to other USC basketball fans. It was during one of these noisy games that Daisy let Jory know that his stomach tube was kinked and that he needed assistance.

During their last three years together, Jory has given back to PAALS by participating in public speaking engagements in which he shared how Daisy helps him daily; including inspiring the younger generations of PAALS autism teams by coaching them during their team trainings. Such public appearances may not have been possible for Jory without Daisy’s assistance in helping him overcome social anxieties associated with autism. Jory is also a founding member of Cocky’s Canine PAALS, a student organization in which University of South Carolina students volunteer at the PAALS training school to help walk and groom pups and keep dog housing areas and classrooms in sparkling condition.

Jory, with Daisy by his side, graduated from The University of South Carolina May 6th with a stellar academic record and has been granted the prestigious Rhodes scholarship in addition to a plethora of other national scholarships, University of South Carolina awards and scholarships, funded research projects, service and leadership awards. He has also authored four publications in professional journals during his time at USC.  He and Daisy are spending the summer in Washington, DC, at the Library of Congress and are headed to Oxford University in England to study in the fall 2017. Jory and Daisy are looking forward to a rewarding post graduate study adventure and PAALS can’t wait to see what this team does next to pay it forward!