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Student earns degree with help of canine friend

Posted on Monday, July 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Alexandra and Obi --Like the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is known for guiding Luke Skywalker to knighthood, a Corgi named Obi stayed by the side of his friend, Motlow College student Alexandra Roach, on her journey to earn an associate degree. She and Obi graduated from the college on May 11.

Obi, a rescue from the PAWS (Pet Adoption and Welfare Services) of Rutherford County, is a trained service dog and assists Alexandra in a variety of ways.

“He is just the right size and is very intelligent and enjoys working,” she said. “He has been trained to do specific things to help me, but what is astonishing are all the things he does to help that were never taught. He seems to know what I need before I need it.”

Alexandra suffers from invisible disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder, problems from head trauma and an anxiety disorder called agoraphobia.

According to the Invisible Disabilities website at http://www.invisibledisabilities.org/, “The term invisible disabilities refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, cognitive dysfunctions, learning differences and mental disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.”

Because Alexandra’s disabilities are not visible, people sometimes don’t understand or take her problems seriously. She is hoping that she and Obi can educate others about disabilities that are not evident from a person’s outward appearance.

“It was difficult at first in some of my classes because many didn’t know about the American with Disabilities Act and the service animal allowances that are included in it,” she said. “I hope Obi and I have been a good first experience with service animals for others.”

Alexandra, who lives in Rutherford County and is taking classes at Motlow’s Smyrna Center this summer, said Obi loves going to school and lets her know it’s time to leave for class by barking and licking her hands. She credits much of her academic success to her canine friend.

“This was my third attempt at completing a degree, but with Obi by my side, I finally was able to function as well as other ‘normal’ students,” she said. “My GPA since beginning Motlow is over 3.7, which is something I never would have dreamed possible.

“It is difficult being ‘different,’ but Obi has helped break down many obstacles that were in the way of my academic success. He has helped me make many friends who I may never have met otherwise.”

Alexandra is considering attending Middle Tennessee State University this fall but is keeping her options open. One thing is certain, however; wherever she goes, Obi will help her get there.