Service dog helps Fagan with everyday skills

Sixth-grader Tyler Fagen of Monticello poses for a picture with his service dog Tax. Fagen suffers from EDS, a debilitating bone and skin disease. Due to his restrictions, Taz assists Fagan wherever he goes, helping him on steps and in and out of vehicles. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Some people adopt a dog simply as a pet. A dog can provide companionship. A dog can assist those who are blind. And dogs can offer those with physical disabilities stability, in more ways than one.

     Sixth-grader Tyler Fagan of Monticello and his German shorthair chocolate lab Taz are quite the pair. They play together in the living room, Tyler enticing Taz with his doggie toys. Tyler teaches his 5-month-old dog the right commands, “Sit. No. Down.”

     You see, Taz is Tyler’s service dog.

     Almost two years ago, Tyler was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called hypermobility EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome). Simply put, his body doesn’t produce enough collagen for his ligaments.

     Tyler’s mom, Devin Fagan, explained that her son is easily prone to breaks and sprains because his bones are not protected.

     For instance, Tyler has very little strength in his fingers, so he needs help opening bottles or jars.

     Unfortunately, EDS is something carried through the Fagan family. Devin also has the disease, as do three of their four children. Fourth-grader Haylie Fagan also suffers from EDS; and in females, it also causes learning disorders and autism.

     “But Tyler has it the worst,” said Devin. “It affects his heart, skin, bones.”

     To help manage his pain, Tyler takes medications on a daily basis because there is no cure for EDS.

     “His health will gradually deteriorate,” added Devin.

     Due to his health problems and the pain and emotional anxiety that go along with having EDS, Tyler and Haylie are homeschooled.

     “He missed up to three months of school because of his medical issues,” Devin said.

     Not wanting Tyler to suffer in school, the Fagans decided to turn to homeschooling through the Marion School District. A representative comes to their home twice a quarter to make sure the kids are on the right track, looking over their grades and lessons.

     With Tyler’s physical and medical needs, Taz is by his side every day, day and night.

     “Taz helps with Tyler’s stability, especially going up and down steps,” said Devin. “Or getting in and out of vehicles.”

     The Fagan family adopted Taz in August when he was just 8 weeks old. Since then, they’ve taken him to Stone Hollow Dog Training, owned by Tory Topping, in Cascade. There, Taz gained the basic skills needed for a service dog, along with obedience training as well.

     “Once Taz is around 18 months,” said Devin, “he’ll start training to carry items for Tyler (such as school supplies).” Already Taz knows when to alert the Fagans if Tyler starts having an anxiety attack.

     Future training will enable Taz to open doors.

     “We’re working on commands, ways to control Taz and practice at home,” said Tyler.

     “He’s still a pup,” added Devin.

     Tyler likes to say Taz picked him out and not the other way around.

     Taz also accompanies Tyler to therapy for his depression and anxiety.

     The family started researching service dogs online over a year ago, coming across several reputable sources. A training facility in Pennsylvania was one of the only places known to train service dogs specifically for EDS.

     Devin said they had to fill out an extensive application about Tyler’s medical history, as well as a video about his condition.

     “It was very intensive,” she said.

     A week before Christmas 2016, they received a letter saying Tyler’s application was approved, and that the family needed to come to Pennsylvania to visit the facility and for a face-to-face meeting.

     In May 2017, they drove to Pennsylvania.

     “After our first visit, they weren’t sure Tyler was ready for the responsibility of a service dog,” Devin said.

     While the family is still pursuing a service dog through the organization in Pennsylvania, which could take a couple of years, Taz seemed like the perfect fit.

     “They have formed such a great bond,” praised Devin of Tyler’s relationship with Taz.

     Like a service dog leading the blind, Devin explained Taz has the very same rights while in public even though he’s still in training. When the family goes out for supper, Taz sits quietly under the table. When Tyler hangs out at the library, Taz remains under the table as well. Devin said half the time people don’t know they have a dog with them when out and about because Taz is so quiet.

     “By law, anywhere that Tyler goes, Taz can go, too,” she said. The only objection is private property, such a person’s home where they don’t allow dogs. Over the summer, Taz accompanied Tyler to the swimming pool and quietly sat on the pool deck.

     “He’s just there, needed for medical needs,” reminded Devin.

     Tyler added, “He helps me calm down when I’m sad or mad.” Tyler said his EDS does not allow him to do the simple things other kids do like play ball, which leads to some depression.

     Devin said the family’s ultimate goal is for Taz to attend public school with Tyler after he’s fully trained.

     “We need to get Tyler’s EDS under control and hopefully he’ll go back to school,” Devin said with hope. “The more independent and confident Tyler gets, he can be an advocate for himself and not need Mom or Dad by his side.”

     Tyler is the son of Eric and Devin Fagan.


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