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Best Friends – A Service Dog Portrait

Meet Mary Katherine and her best friend Atti. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of doing some work for Paws’itive Teams, a top notch service dog organization here in San Diego. I’ve been able to photograph their teams at annual events and also get involved with their website development. More recently I’ve decided to photograph some of their teams as a personal project and hope to do more with them this year. It is pretty amazing watching a highly trained service dog improve the life of its owner!

With service dogAs it turns out, Mary Katherine’s mother, Kathy Milburn is a far better writer than me so I will let my images and her words come together to give you some background on the pair:

Mary Katherine was born with a rare condition called sebaceous nevus syndrome that starts out looking like a birthmark and comes with a long list of possible challenges.  While she has had many, the most present day to day issue for her is rickets, or soft bones.
As a result of Rickets, Mary Katherine’s mobility is affected and she uses crutches to walk and a wheelchair for long distances.  Her left arm and hand are also involved and are weak.
Imagine your day with legs that don’t work so well and hands that are busy with crutches, one of those working at about half capacity.  That’s where Atti comes in.

service dog portrait

Atti is half golden retriever, half labrador retriever and was trained by Charli King at Pawsitive Teams.  She came to us at nearly 3 years old, highly skilled as a mobility assistance dog.  Now 5, she serves as a balance and brace dog as well for Mary Katherine, wearing a harness and providing stability for her.

dog waiting for treat

Some of the tasks that Atti performs on a regular basis for her include getting her crutch or stick as we call it, opening doors, picking things up, putting clothes in a laundry basket, and getting me and leading me back to Mary Katherine.  While these are the tasks she assists with, Atti really does so much more.

dog getting remote control
dog opening door

Because of Atti, Mary Katherine now has a whole new circle of friends through Pawsitive Teams.  She has become quite the dog trainer and does demos teaching people about service dogs.  When mobility is limited, some of the typical hobbies are not available.  Dog training certainly is.
Atti is an ice breaker and comforter.  At doctors visits or school, Atti presents opportunities for conversations and new connections.  As Charli taught us, just looking for the smiles Atti brings to people’s faces changes the attitude of a whole experience.  Mary Katherine has also had to learn about care for another being, rather than being the one cared for.

service dog with wheelchair

Paws’itive Teams clients include a broad range of people from combat veterans to youth like Mary Katherine and its been truly moving to see them come together and share a common bond at annual events. Once again, photography provides a window into some very interesting places and lives. As Joe McNally says, “It’s not a camera, it’s a visa.”

girl and her dog

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