Allison, the trainer of service dog McGee, joined the Haskells in Alaska at the first arrival of McGee there in spring 2018 to help Kim Haskell deal with the effects of diabetes. The couple now lives in Lynden. (Courtesy photo/Norm Haskell)

New residents in Lynden tell their story

  LYNDEN — Kim Haskell has been waiting for a service dog for over five years. 

  Kim is wheelchair-bound and diabetic. In 2013 her doctor suggested looking into a service dog to assist her with tasks such as closing doors, helping when her blood sugar is too low and picking up items from the ground.

  From their home state of Alaska, Kim and her husband Norm started looking into different options. “We knew nothing when we first started,” Kim said. 

  After two attempts to get a service dog fell through, she found another program, Freedom Service Dogs, near Denver.

  The waiting list for that program was three years. She added her name to the long list in 2015. On a Friday in February 2018 she finally got a call that there was a dog the program believed could be a good fit for her and her needs. 

  Kim and Norm packed up and were in Denver by Monday. That’s when they met McGee, a white Lab. 

  Talking about McGee, Kim lights up. “He was an awesome dog.”

  It appeared that McGee and Kim would work well together. After the initial meeting, Kim and Norm went back to Alaska where they waited for the dog to finish the rest of his training and learn specialized tasks for Kim. 

  In May 2018, Kim and Norm went back to Denver to do two weeks of training with McGee before he could graduate from the service dog program. By the end of training, McGee knew he was supposed to keep an eye on Kim and her needs. 

  “During the graduation McGee didn’t take his eyes off Kim,” Norm said. 

  They went home from Denver with McGee — and their lives changed. McGee kept learning new tasks specifically for Kim’s needs. 

  “I fall a lot,” Kim said. “It’s helpful when the dog can go get help if needed.” 

  If Kim’s blood sugar dropped at all, she would give a verbal command to McGee, who would go to the refrigerator and grab a soda to help raise the level back up. 

  Kim says the most important thing McGee did was give her independence. “Just the self-confidence it gave me to be alone,” she said. “Before him, I would never leave alone, but with him I could.”

  Norm said he felt more confident leaving as well. “It made me feel more comfortable working,” he said about a job he has in Bellingham.

  After a few months of this new-found independence, however, things with McGee rapidly started to change. “Overnight, he just got flaky,” Norm said.

  McGee started to guess what Kim was asking for. Instead of turning a light on, he would go grab her water. Or he’d go grab her cane when she asked him to pick something up. 

  “He wasn’t coming when I called him,” Kim said. 

  When Kim and Norm took the dog to Fred Meyer he got startled by people in the store and would bark at them.

  They decided to take McGee to the vet, and it was discovered he had begun to lose his hearing. 

  “It was a congenital thing,” Kim said. “In the beginning his hearing was good.”

  The trainers from Denver came and took McGee back in November 2018. He was fully deaf in  about three weeks. 

  Kim was put back at the top of the service dog wait-list with Freedom Service Dogs. She’s been waiting for a little over a year now for a new dog, but she says she’s grateful for the time between dogs. “It’s given me time to grieve losing him,” she said. 

  Kim and Norm moved to Lynden just last October and are working on settling into the community. 

  Freedom Service Dogs predicted Kim would be getting the call to meet a new dog sometime after the turn of the year. She hasn’t gotten the call yet. 

  Kim and Norm are now worried about the expenses associated with getting another dog. “We used all the money we saved up to get a service dog,” she said. 

  The new service dog won’t cost them any money, but there are other expenses associated with getting one. They’ll have to travel to Denver four times. Each time they travel, they’ll have to get a hotel and a wheelchair-accessible van. 

  Norm says they have put donation bins out at businesses around Lynden and are hoping to do some big fundraisers, like a community garage sale, but that takes connections and money too. 

  In the meantime, Kim and Norm are enjoying being grandparents and learning about their new home, all while waiting for a new sense of independence for Kim.