SMSServiceDogOriginally Published The Nugget News Match 8, 2016
Author Jodi Schneider McNamee

Buddy is a tiny 18-month-old Yorkshire terrier. He may weigh only three pounds, but has a natural ability for being an emotional support dog for SistersMiddle School fifth-grader Ryan Benson.

Benson was born with a congenital heart defect, and at the age of seven weeks, he underwent heart surgery. He was doing very well after the surgery and just had to follow up with minor surgeries to clean out scar tissue.

Then last year Benson became afflicted with fatigue and would feel faint some of the time. One episode happened at his piano class at Bald Eagle Music and his piano instructor, Rebecca French called 911.

“Since that time we have been going to doctors nonstop,” said Robin Benson, Ryan’s mom. “We go to OHSU Doernbecker Children’s Hospital in Portland and Seattle Children’s hospital. Then in California we’ve gone to KECK Hospital of USC.

Ryan Benson has been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Symptoms are related to the reduced blood volume that occurs when standing up. This syndrome is usually triggered when a person stands up after lying down.

“It has a lot to do with how Ryan’s heart pumps blood. His heart rate can get super fast and his blood pressure can get very low,” Benson said. “The doctors don’t know if this has anything to do with his original congenital heart defect.

“At the end of December we went to an amazing program at OHSU Doernbecker and Ryan and I spoke to many different doctors,” Benson said. “They have him on a mindfulness program with exercise therapy, nutrition therapy and even group therapy with other kids that have problems similar to his.

“During the program we met with doctors and physical therapists, and they thought it would be best for Ryan to have a dog,” Benson said. “They said it would be very therapeutic for him to get his mind off his illness.”

At first Benson’s husband, Mark, said no to adopting a dog. But that changed quickly when a doctor from the program discussed how amazing a dog can benefit a child that has a chronic illness.

That same day after arriving back in Sisters, Robin Benson just happened to look at Sisters Swap on Facebook and saw a tiny male Yorkshire terrier up for adoption.

“That was really amazing to see a dog for adoption right after deciding we needed one for Ryan,” Robin said.

Knowing nothing of the little dog’s personality or his past, Benson had faith that this could be the right dog for Ryan.

“Ryan and I met with the little 18-month-old Yorkie and Ryan instantly liked him. His personality was very sweet and calm and he warmed up to Ryan right away,” said Benson

Soon after adopting the dog, now named Buddy, Benson and her son drove back to Portland to OHSU. With Buddy by their side they introduced him to the doctors and asked what information they needed for Buddy to become a service dog for Ryan Benson.

“Buddy needed a health record, but none was found at his old veterinarian. So we took him to SistersVeterinary Clinic and Dr. Berg ran tests on Buddy, gave him all his shots, and he got a clean bill of health,” Benson said.

Buddy qualified as an emotional support dog for Benson; he also qualified as a service dog because he can carry Benson’s medication for his heart disability with him at all times.

“The next step for an emotional support dog and service dog is to make sure Ryan takes him out and socializes him well,” Benson said. “You have to have a certain amount of hours socializing your dog.”

Buddy went with Ryan on a school field trip to Bend Science Station.

“I really like him so much. He loves going places and the other students got to meet him on the field trip. Buddy follows me around the house and is always there by my side,” Ryan Benson said proudly. “We have taken him to the store and out to dinner. He wears his service dog gear. And he never barks at other dogs when we are out.”

Benson has a thirst for music and has a knack for writing songs. He has taken piano lessons for two years and plays the drums with enthusiasm.

“I like music and my favorite thing is to write songs even more than playing the piano,” said the 10-year-old. “The first song I wrote is called ‘How To Dare A Daredevil’ and I just wrote another one called ‘Weird Things’.”

Ryan also enjoys painting, and takes art lessons from Casey Gardner Acrylics, out of her home.

Through it all, Buddy keeps everybody’s spirits up.

“Buddy is very happy here with us, even Ryan’s brothers Benjamin and Luke like him,” Robin said. “When Ryan gets sad we make sure he pets Buddy. And when I’m sad Ryan encourages me to pet Buddy.”