Jessica + Dakota

Local Shelter Finds and Trains Perfect Dog to Help Woman with Health Challenges

Jessica + Dakota

In the fall of 2014, after three years of syncope (fainting) and seizure episodes, I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia (an abnormality of the autonomic nervous system).

Until then, the episodes had been attributed to stress and trauma. After being removed from my family at age 16, I had been homeless before moving on-campus for college.

"My doctor gave me an ultimatum: wear a helmet, get a wheelchair or get a service dog."

Therefore, an actual diagnosis was a surprise. After my sixth concussion within a year, my doctor gave me an ultimatum: wear a helmet, get a wheelchair or get a service dog.

I searched for an organization to apply for a service dog, but few trained for Dysautonomia. In the meantime, I watched dog training videos, thinking maybe I could train my own dog. However, between my class schedule and the fact that outside the dorms, I was still homeless, I was not able to train a dog who would need such vigorous and specialized training.

I stumbled upon Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan (RPSM), who sends shelter dogs to prisons for training to increase their adoptability. I noticed that some of their graduates included service dogs and decided to ask if they could help.

The process was thorough, and the folks at RPSM were easy to work with. They asked if there were any specific breeds, genders or characteristics I would prefer. I told them no and that whichever dog they decided on would be best for me.


Eventually, they decided on a small Lab/Staffie named “Dakota.” She completed months of obedience and task training. During the process, I learned we had similar backgrounds: she had been adopted and returned twice. Just like me, she knew the streets and loneliness. And just like me, she was determined to find a better world.

The day we met she leapt into my arms as if she already knew me. I learned about Dakota, her training and the best ways that we could adjust to each other. The entire time I gloated and she wagged her tail. Day one was a success.

Day two was equally as incredible. As I walked, Dakota kept rubbing her face into my shins. Confused, I sat down to see what was wrong. Almost instantly, dizziness washed over me, and I fainted. No one, not myself or the trainers, expected her to alert so quickly. When I regained consciousness, I held her close to me and thanked her repeatedly. She gazed at me, worry evident in her deep hazel eyes.

Since our adoption match, we’ve experienced incredible adventures together aboard boats, buses, planes and trains. We have visited two oceans and three Great Lakes as well as Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, DC. We have gotten our picture taken with the meanest mall Santa in history and found our first apartment together.

Although I still experience episodes, I have not gotten hurt since this adoption match. I am so thankful for RPSM for bringing us together.


Each year, the Petco Love invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Jessica McCormick won Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan in Coldwater, Michigan a 2016 Holiday Wishes award.