Student Spotlight: Kaity Ellis and Ranger

Silver City, NM – Since starting at Western New Mexico University in the fall of 2013, Kaity Ellis has made quite the impression on her fellow students as well as on the school itself with her position in Student Senate and her involvement in making the campus friendlier towards its handi-capable students.

Kaity was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) and cortical visual impairment (CVI) which commonly go hand-in-hand with cerebral palsy, just like in Kaity’s case. Her condition puts her in a wheelchair and her visual impairment is so severe that she is classified as legally blind.

On February 6, 2015 Isaac Brundage, the Vice President of Student Affairs at WNMU, and the Institute of Rural Social Work teamed up to award Kaity with a $3000 scholarship to go toward getting a service dog after she was denied by the Guide Dog Foundation due to her wheelchair.

WNMU contacted Jared Latham from American Service Dogs in Las Cruces while he was in Silver City on business and requested his assistance. In May, Kaity was matched with Ranger. Ranger had originally been assigned to another person, but the deal fell through.

“The previous person was in a wheelchair as well, so Ranger was perfect!” Latham says.

Latham worked with Kaity for 8-10 weeks to teach Ranger and her how to work together and understand each other before Kaity could take him home with her in May. Because every person has unique mannerisms and speech patterns, it was important that Ranger learn how to respond to Kaity instead of Jared. Kaity also had to learn the different commands and how to maneuver with Ranger beside her.

“The dog has to want to work for you, you can’t force it. Ranger does what he does because he has bonded with Kaity,” Latham tells us.

Kaity and Ranger still meet with Latham regularly to refresh uncommon commands in Ranger’s memory, as well to help Kaity train Ranger to do new things, and to make sure that there is no breakdown of communication.

“Service dogs are still animals, not robots. You can’t just push a button and go. They have off days too.” Latham says, and because of this it is important for Kaity to understand cues from Ranger as well.

Latham says that they have mastered opening doors with the assist button about 90% and are at about 85% when it comes to object retrieval. They are also working on visual guidance.

Even though Kaity only took Ranger home with her about 5 months ago, he has already made a big difference in her life.

“Ranger’s given me more confidence,” Kaity says, “because now I know that even if no one else is around, I’ll be safe. He’s done it more than once where he’s gotten me out of potentially dangerous situations.”

Ranger was recently included in the newest group of ASWNMU photos that can be seen on the third floor at the student memorial building. Kaity’s Senate District is District 7, and she and Ranger can often be found in Student Health Services in the Juan Chacon Building. She holds office hours on the second floor of the Phelps Dodge Building on Tuesday’s from 3:00-5:00 PM and Wednesday’s from 3:30-4:30 PM.

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