Raising Samantha By Troy Anna Smith
My daughter once told me that dogs love their owners more than they love themselves. It was something I would never forget, and truthfully, I don’t think she’s wrong. To love unconditionally, is to love without any limit or qualification, and when observing a dog’s love for their human they generally choose to surrender once a relationship is formed.
I had the privilege to attend the meeting of a service dog out of Canine Support Teams Inc Samantha, an Australian Shepard and Grand Prix rider Kevin Babington. Kevin is currently recovering from a spinal cord injury after a fall on horseback during the 2019 Grand Prix at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, NY.
I sat with a camera crew, as well as a few others alongside Kevin and my daughter as we impatiently waited for Samantha’s arrival from West Palm Beach Airport. From my understanding, it had been a long trip for the pup across the country. As we all desperately tried to make small talk to fill the awkward silence everyone was eager to know how Kevin was feeling. Samantha will be a life changing part in the house, not only will she be an additional dog in the mix, but her plan was to be opening doors, asking for help when Kevin cannot, among many other tasks.
But the tension finally broke with the tiny pitter patter and the most adorable smile came through the front door. Truly, I am not sure whose smile was bigger. Kevin continued to tell Samantha how beautiful she was as she gulped down water and we stared in admiration. The wait had been worth it. “Welcome to Florida,” he tells her. So, now what? Trainer and chaperone Chase Palmer began a run-down of information of the next days to come, as the transition would be a major change for all.
Samantha would assist in retrieval, turning on and off lights, delivering Kevin’s stylist to him (this he uses for his iPad and iPhone) as well as alerting others for help when needed.
Carol Roquemore, founder of Canine Support Teams, had a major role in bringing Samantha and Kevin together. CST is a 501C3 nonprofit corporation and for 30 years has been providing service dogs for people who have experienced medical injury, sexual trauma, PTSD, seizure disorders, among much more. Carol has personally had five service dogs of her own in her lifetime, and knows the process well. “It is rewarding to see what a dog can do to someone,” she says. “There is nothing that Samantha could not do. His life is going to be better, and that is the ultimate reward for us.”
Samantha’s training started as a puppy alongside journalist, photographer, and puppy trainer, Lindsay Brock. This well loved and large contributor to the Canine Support Team family made the trip with Samantha across the country as she graduated to a program called the California Institution for Men. The inmate program consists of 40 prisoners who are highly trained by trainer Chase Palmer, and placed one on one with the dogs to fully invest on a personal training journey and also provide life skills for the inmates. This is the first prison pup program in the state of California.
It is a remarkable thought, to imagine what these dogs experience. They begin programs training with criminals, to only miraculously succeed in reducing recidivism, and then continue a life working wholeheartedly for those with special needs. Kevin rode some of the most powerful Irish bred sport horses over fences taller than myself, and when I asked what he hoped Samantha would do for him today, it simply took my breath away.
“If she could give me some independence, even just to go on a little drive by myself, that would be very nice.” Samantha will bring Kevin his freedom back, the independence he has longed for.
Kevin laughs discussing his spoiled pets in the home, it will be hard to maintain order with Samantha strictly as a service dog. “I spoil my dogs rotten,” he tells me. “This will have to take some time to adjust, I will have to learn to be disciplined.
Board Director at CST Nancy Powers, a considerable facilitator in the collaboration of the match, has kept the group updated since Samantha’s arrival in Florida. Kevin not only has been sleeping better, but has been able to go on drives in his chair with Samantha alone.
“It is undoubtedly why I can keep going, because of the community, and the foundation, and continued support,” Kevin tells me. “I am overwhelmed by everyone, and am so grateful.”
Kevin believes so much in the process, he will be paying it forward thanks to Samantha and Canine Support Teams. New puppy, Bliss, bred by Natalie Schwartz and fostered by Jeri Chandler, will be raised by Rebecca Walton for the next person in need.
“This is another vital part of The Kevin Babington Foundation’s never-ending quest to assist in the recovery of catastrophic spinal cord injuries suffered by Show Jumpers.” Jeff Papows adds, Chairman of the Kevin Babington Foundation. “I’m grateful for the day Nancy invited me to get involved with CST, our organizations are made for one another. This story is about love, for the sport, for Kevin, our love for Samantha, and Samantha’s relentless love for Kevin.”