N.S. teen finds her service dog match after years of searching

It was back in 2019 when CTV first met the Joy family as they were trying to raise thousands of dollars for a very special service dog for their daughter, Mackenzie.

Now 18 years old, Mackenzie was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality, resulting in global developmental delay, ADHD, epilepsy, and a cleft palate which affects her speech.

After the CTV story aired four years ago, donations allowed the family’s fundraising campaign to reach its $8,000 goal, and the wheels got in motion to get a dog from NEADS World Class Service Dogs in the United States.

“Then COVID happened,” says her mother, Renena Joy. “So that kind of delayed things a couple years.”

But finally, last December they got the call they had waited so long for. There was a match, and the family headed south of the border to meet Ginny.

“What did you say when you saw her,” Renena asked Mackenzie.

“I love her,” Mackenzie says, “my heart pounded.”

Mackenzie Joy’s service dog, Ginny. (CTV/Heidi Petracek) The family headed to the NEADS centre in Princeton, Massachusetts to learn the specific commands and techniques they would need to handle the two-year-old black Labrador dog.

For example, Ginny will sit in Mackenzie’s lap on command to provide comfort and security.

The family also had the unique opportunity to meet the man who trained the dog as part of a rehabilitation program in prison, NEADS’ Prison PUP program.

“And it was very rewarding, and we’re very glad that we did that, and a lot of tears were shed on our side, and on theirs so it was very cool,” says Shawn.

Ginny is the first dog from NEADS dog to come to Canada.

When Mackenzie’s parents were initially searching for a service dog for their daughter, they discovered Mackenzie didn’t qualify for government-funded programs in Canada.

They say their exhaustive search and long wait was well worth it.

Mackenzie and Ginny are now fast friends, the dog going almost everywhere with her, as long as her parents are present. Renena and Shawn are Ginny’s official handlers, so they stay close by to guide the dog as needed.

Ginny helps Mackenzie sleep through the night and provides crucial support.

The pair’s adventures together are documented on social media, showcasing photos of Mackenzie and Ginny doing everything including going to prom.

Mackenzie Joy at her prom with her service dog, Ginny. (Courtesy: Renena Joy) “The bond has been so fast and so great, that Mackenzie’s a lot more independent because of Ginny,” says Shawn.

“I don’t even remember what our life was like before Ginny,” adds Renena.

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