Teen with spina bifida and service dog walk a path to independence

A photo of mobility service dog Euro, Adam Paul's "counter-balance"

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how much is this picture worth?

For Debbie Paul, who received the above photo in a text from her son, it is priceless. “It was a turning point in my mind,” she says.

That turning point took place on July 7, nearly two weeks following her son Adam’s graduation as a service-dog handler. Adam, who is 14, going on 15, has spina bifida, a birth defect that involves the incomplete closure of the spinal cord. He was profiled in an October 2015, Boston Children’s Hospital Thriving blog.

Euro is Adam’s mobility-service dog, companion and what Adam calls his “counter balance.” “She helps me stay steady,” he says. “She walks with me on my left-hand side and keeps my same pace. It’s a lot easier walking with her than without her.”

Adam, who has spina bifida, with his service-dog Euro

Because of spina bifida, Adam can’t feel his feet or even a significant portion of his legs. Walking is a challenge.

“A doctor once told me a walk around the block for Adam is like walking a 5K,” Debbie says. “It takes that much endurance, and he expends that much energy.

So when Adam informed his mom, he’d like to take Euro on a walk to the lake, she said, “OK, let me grab my shoes.”

Adam went from needing his mom with him to take a walk, to an average teenager just going for a stroll with his dog. Euro has given him a huge first step towards independence.

Adam reassured her, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ve got my cell phone. We’ll just go.”

The walk was 3/4 of a mile — to the lake and back. It was the longest distance Adam had ever attempted on his own. When he arrived at the lake, he texted his mom a photo of Euro.

“He took this beautiful picture of his incredible service dog and sent it to me to make me happy,” says Debbie. “Adam went from needing his mom with him to take a walk, to an average teenager just going for a stroll with his dog. Euro has given him a huge first step towards independence.”

Spina bifida can’t stop team Adam/Euro

Adam was paired with golden retriever Euro through New Horizon Service Dogs, an Orange City, Florida, non-profit organization that partners trained dogs with individuals who require wheelchair and/or mobility assistance.

“Overall, she has improved my quality of life greatly,” says Adam. She and I are on the same wavelength. I can understand what she’s thinking, and she knows what I’m thinking.”

When they made their annual visit to the Boston Children’s Center for Spina Bifida and Spinal Cord Conditions, Debbie says Adam’s care team was amazed at the difference in how he walked and how he carried himself.

“The neuropsychologist at the Spina Bifida Clinic started talking about independence and transitioning and going to college — all of which I was unsure about before,” Debbie explains. “Now it’s very different, now I can imagine him going away to college. This is the start of something very wonderful.”

Adam and his service dog Euro

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Center for Spina Bifida and Spinal Cord Conditions.