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Service dog who got student through grad school gets awarded honorary diploma

'I pushed for him to graduate from Day One. He did everything I did,' Hawley revealed.

Service dog who got student through grad school gets awarded honorary diploma
Cover Image Source: Clarkson University

When Brittany Hawley graduated with a master's degree in occupational therapy from New York's Clarkson University a few years ago, she wasn't alone when she walked across the stage. Her loyal service dog, GRIFFIN—whose name is spelled in capital letters—was right by her side, just as he was for the two and half years she spent at the school. Except, this time, the then-4-year-old golden retriever was there to collect his very own honorary degree. "I pushed for him to graduate from Day One. He did everything I did," Hawley revealed, reports AP.


According to CBS News, Hawley was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) at the age of 16. Approximately 25% of cases of the chronic pain condition then develop into dystonia, a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures. As the condition led to her losing the ability to walk, Hawley uses a wheelchair and relies on GRIFFIN to do a wide range of physical tasks for her including opening doors, turning on lights and bringing her items she indicates with a laser pointer. More importantly, he was a big source of comfort amid her relentless, severe pain that causes anxiety and depression.


Hawley admitted that the dedicated canine had a huge impact on her experience in school. "I felt more independent, I was more social, I felt more outgoing with him," she said. "I pushed from day one, when I graduate, I want GRIFFIN to graduate with me." Hawley revealed that she got her beloved four-legged companion from paws4prisons, a program that teaches inmates at West Virginia prisons to train and place high-level assistance dogs. Coincidentally, she was approved for a service dog through the program the same day she received an interview for her now-alma mater.


"We moved to New York together, we started school together and we finished together," Hawley shared. Recalling the moment she knew GRIFFIN would be the perfect companion for her, she said: "The inmates allow many dogs to come up to you and let the dog choose you. Some dogs were scared of the wheelchair. GRIFFIN jumped right into my lap and licked me across the face." The pair have been inseparable since finding each other, with GRIFFIN even helping out when Hawley worked at Fort Bragg in North Carolina during an internship, helping soldiers with mobility impairments as well as psychosocial disorders.


While brushing a dog could help improve a patient's range of motion, stroking GRIFFIN also helps ease peoples' anxiety, Hawley explained. "My patients would say, 'My therapist today is Brittany and GRIFFIN,'" she said. Given how big a role the canine has played in Hawley getting her master's degree, the school was happy to approve her request for her pup to get an honorary degree of his own. "Clarkson University welcomes service animals trained to assist people in all aspects of education, research, and campus life. The Board of Trustees recognized that GRIFFIN has demonstrated extraordinary effort, steadfast commitment, and diligent dedication to the well-being and student success of his owner Brittany," the school said in a statement.

Image Source: Clarkson University

"The two have pursued 100% together a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy attending all the same classes, lectures, faculty appointments, group study sessions, social activities, research projects, and clinical experiences, fully making GRIFFIN an equal member of the Clarkson Golden Knights family," the statement continued. "GRIFFIN has been awarded an honorary diploma for his extraordinary contributions to student success." She and GRIFFIN will be a package deal even when she applies for jobs, Hawley said. "I couldn't participate in anything without him," she said. "I'm so used to him being there."


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