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Amazing Golden Retriever saves young boy's life

November 27th, 2004, 01:09 PM

Teagin, a 3-year-old golden retriever and trained service dog, keeps an eye on 5-year-old Lucas Mitchell. Teagin saved Mitchell, who is autistic, from possibly drowning recently. (Christine McCormick/Herald-Standard)

MARKLEYSBURG - When Sara Mitchell ran into her Church Street home in mid-October to check on soup she had simmering on the stove, she never imagined what would transpire in the three minutes she left her young sons playing in the yard.

When she left them, her 6-year-old son Justus and 5-year-old son Lucas were playing on the cool, autumn afternoon. When she returned, the boys were nowhere in sight. Mitchell's heart jumped. First, she checked the playground across the street. Then she jumped in her car and headed toward town, not sure where they could be.

As she turned onto Route 281, just 100 yards from her home, she spotted them.

Lucas was soaked, muddy and blue, spitting up water. Beside him, the family's most prized pet - Lucas' service dog, Teagin - was also soaked and muddy, still working to pull the boy to safety from a giant water retainer used for ongoing sewage work along the roadway.

Mitchell quickly comprehended the scene. Her autistic son had nearly drowned and Teagin saved him.

"Teagin literally saved his life that day," Mitchell said. "After I knew he was going to be OK, I just hugged Teagin nonstop."

Lucas, who loves the water, had found the 30-foot by 40-foot by 30-foot concrete retainer and just went right in.

If Teagin hadn't saved Lucas, Mitchell said she probably would have drowned trying. The only reason the dog could pull the child to safety was she was able to use her nails to grip the slippery concrete slope.

"I would never have been able to save him," Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who works at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, and her husband Nick, who is in nursing school, both know the daily struggles of raising an autistic child. Mitchell said no greater frustration exists than trying to take care of someone when you can't really communicate.

Mitchell said Lucas was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disability that usually appears during the early years, when he was 2 years old. The neurological disorder is four times greater in boys than girls and inhibits a person's ability to communicate, respond to surroundings or build relationships with others. The condition requires lifelong care and sufferers will never completely overcome the language impairments that result from the disease.

While Lucas remained nonverbal until only recently, his mother's bright blue eyes sparkle when she talks about his newfound communication skills.

"Well, Lucas can talk now. Can't you, Lukey?" Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, Lucas recently had his first "Rain Man" experience - referring to the autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1980s movie - when he shocked the family and began to recite an alphabet song he had been taught more than two years ago. At the time, Lucas never recited a word from the song that names something beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Then, this fall, when he was about to go to sleep, Mitchell said he sang the entire song.

"Apple, monkey, all the letters, all the words, all the way through," Mitchell said. It was the first time he had spoken," Mitchell said.

The family has learned to cope with Lucas' illness and learned to enjoy the blessings in life through their newfound partner and Lucas' best friend, Teagin.

A 3-year-old golden retriever from New Hope Assistant Dogs Inc. in Warren, Teagin is the first service dog in the state to be matched with an autistic child. Mitchell said their life has been blessed with her help.

The small retriever has been like a miracle for the family. When Teagin wears the service vest, she is "on duty" and never leaves Lucas' side. When it is taken off, she runs and plays and interacts with others in the family, just like a normal dog would.

"She really is amazing," Mitchell said.

Teagin is with Lucas 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the two have developed a very tight bond. Even when Teagin is "off-duty," she will still remain near Lucas, and he, too, never seems to want to let her go, always jealous when she is playing with others or just resting.

Justus, too, frequently wants to play with the dog, forgetting she has a job to do. And more often than not, when that happens, the golden retriever's vest is removed, and Teagin becomes the family playmate once more.

Before Teagin entered the family's lives, they had trouble going out in public because Lucas couldn't cope with the transition. Now, with Teagin by his side, Lucas has the confidence to attend kindergarten every day at Marclay School, let alone be seen publicly. Though it has been an adjustment for his class, the dog is just a part of the classroom now, Mitchell said.

"All the kids are wonderful about it."

With their lives so remarkably changed by their son and their amazing pet, the Mitchells are entering Teagin in a national service award competition for dogs that have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Mitchell said Teagin will forever be in the family's hearts and deserves any recognition she gets.

"She did the ultimate service," Mitchell said. "She saved his life."

November 29th, 2004, 01:07 PM
What a truely special dog! Thanks for sharing that inspiring story.