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Moxie’s mission: Help her human and be an inspiration for other service dogs

Katie Harris of Lenexa lives with a debilitating disease. Her goldendoodle service dog, Moxie, has changed her life.
Katie Harris of Lenexa lives with a debilitating disease. Her goldendoodle service dog, Moxie, has changed her life.

“Moxie” means an ability to face difficulties with confidence and determination.

For Katie Harris of Lenexa, a devoted service dog allows her to do exactly that — “overcome obstacles with spirit and courage,” she said.

Harris, 38, lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare, debilitating disease of connective tissue, and she must face and overcome difficulties every day.

“Moxie” is the name Harris gave to the goldendoodle puppy who changed her life.

A goldendoodle is a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. Harris’ dog is a miniature, weighing 24 pounds.

With Moxie’s help, Harris can live independently, hold down a full-time job as a high school social worker and run a nonprofit, Moxie’s Mission.

Knowing the difference Moxie made in her life, Harris founded the nonprofit to raise funds to provide service dogs to others who need the dogs but can’t afford them.

On Oct. 20, Moxie’s Mission is raising funds with a 6-Legged Relay Fun Run in Kansas City. All proceeds will go to the American Service Dog Association in St. Louis.

Fully trained, a service dog costs between $15,000 to $20,000. Relay proceeds will help pay for a service dog for Grace Moser in St. Louis.

The American Service Dog Association trains service dogs and matches them with applicants who have physical or mental disabilities or diagnoses such as autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Moser, 36, lives with the anxiety and hyper-vigilance of PTSD. Her dog, Athos, helps minimize panic attacks. Athos makes it possible for Moser to teach college courses in American history, to travel for research and to raise three children younger than 5 years of age.

Moser acquired Athos, a 90-pound golden retriever, in June through Moxie’s Mission. Moser said the dog has pulled her out of a “pit of despair and depression” and helped restore the hope she had lost.

“I feel normal again,” Moser said.

The American Service Dog Association customizes the dog training, depending on what the client needs. Usually, the association trains the dog and then pairs the dog with an applicant.

“Moxie was an exception,” said Susanne Schenberg, president and training director of the association in St. Louis.

Moxie entered Harris’ life as a pet first and then “my body fell apart,” she said.

Because her ligaments were too weak to support her head, Harris’ skull began crushing her brainstem and arteries.

“I couldn’t see out of my right eye; I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t feel 90 percent of my body,” she said.

Her health has improved since neck fusion surgery in June. Recovery may take a year, she has been told, and Harris continually copes with pain and a sensation she describes as “liquid acid burning through my body from the head down” as her body regenerates.

“I have really dark moments and Moxie can tell when I’m not feeling well,” she said.

Harris was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in 1980 but wasn’t diagnosed until 2011.

Before her health deteriorated, she played and coached tennis, earned a black belt in martial arts and graduated with master’s and bachelor’s degrees — all the while experiencing “sporadic, random health issues,” frequent hospitalizations and missed diagnoses.

Moxie has now been trained as a service dog and can open the refrigerator and pull out a bottle of water for Harris, drop trash into a bin, retrieve a ringing phone and locate car keys and take them to Harris.

Away from home, Moxie can push a handicap button to open a door, pick up things that Harris drops and sense when Harris isn’t feeling well.

“We are a team,” Harris said. “Moxie has saved my life.”

The Fun Run: Moxie’s Mission 6-Legged Relay Fun Run will be held at 8 a.m. Oct. 20 at Bar K Dog Bar, 501 Berkley Parkway. Registration begins at 9 a.m. The relay begins at 10:30 a.m. Relay teams must have five people and one dog. Race fee is $25 a person. The fee for a dog costume contest fee is $5. To register or donate:runsignup.com/moxiesmission

For more information about Moxie’s Mission: www.adventureswithmoxie.com

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