Heartwarming Achievement: Service Dog Awarded Honorary Degree for Guiding Owner to Graduation

“Griffin” Hawley, the Golden Retriever service dog, receives a congratulatory hug from his owner Brittany Hawley after receiving an honorary diploma from Clarkson on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, during the “December Recognition Ceremony” of the Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, Brittany. Hawley, Griffin’s owner, also has a doctorate in Occupational Therapy. Both students attended all of their classes together.

Brittany Hawley’s devoted service dog, Griffin, accompanied her to class at all times. Griffin would go get her phone if she needed it. Griffin was present even as he helped patients as part of an internship.

So it’s only natural that Griffin was there to congratulate Hawley on earning her master’s degree in occupational therapy from Clarkson University over the weekend, this time with her own honorary certificate.

“From day one I fought for him to graduate,” Hawley said Monday. “Everything I did, he did.”

The school’s board of trustees honored the 4-year-old golden retriever during a recognition event Saturday, saying he showed “exceptional effort, unwavering devotion and dedicated attention to the well-being and academic achievements” of Hawley.

Hawley, 25, of Wilson, North Carolina, is wheelchair-bound and in severe discomfort. Griffin, she says, performs a variety of physical activities for her, such as opening doors, turning on lights and bringing her products that she designates with a laser pointer. But perhaps most importantly, the dog brings comfort in the midst of her acute and constant pain, which generates worry and melancholy.

Hawley obtained Griffin through the “paws4prisons” program, which educates convicts in West Virginia prisons on how to train and deploy high-level support dogs.

“The convicts let several dogs approach him and let the dog choose him,” Hawley explained. “Some of the dogs were terrified of the wheelchair. “Griffin ran into my lap and licked the side of my face.”

During an internship, Hawley and Griffin helped troops with physical limitations and psychosocial problems at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. According to Hawley, brushing a dog can help improve the patient’s range of motion and touching the dog can help relieve anxiety.

“My patients were saying, ‘My therapists today are Brittany and Griffin,’” she explained.

When she applies for a job, she and Griffin will be considered a package deal, according to Hawley.

“I couldn’t do anything without him,” he explained. “I’m so used to seeing it.”

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