WEST BEND - Catherine Palm’s year-old dog may be a constant
companion, but she’s not a pet.
Mattie, a papillion, is a hearing-ear service dog with a big job
"Mattie works by giving me information to help me stay
safe," Palm said. "Pets don't work."
Like Palm’s 11-year-old pet yellow lab, Kirby, Mattie needs
feeding, walking, brushing and the usual veterinarian services.
But the dog also needs to remain on alert to protect Palm’s
Catherine Palm and her twin brother, Ian, were both born with
Jervell and Lange-Nielsen syndrome, a disorder that is hallmarked by
profound deafness and a heart condition. Jolts of adrenaline can be
dangerous for Catherine Palm, who can’t hear a doorbell ring or a
person entering the room.
Mattie gives overt cues, using her paws to touch Catherine Palm’s
leg. When the teen signs "where," Mattie leads her to the
Catherine Palm is also learning to recognize more subtle signals
from Mattie’s fringed, butterfly ears.
"By watching the movement of her ears, my daughter knows
there is something to pay attention to," said Jean Palm.
"She gets lot of information from the dog."
And while Mattie watches out for Catherine Palm, the teen does
the same for her faithful service dog.
"I always worry about her being squashed under people's
feet," she said.
Like any other service dog, Mattie accompanies Catherine Palm on
her daily routine, including attending freshman classes at West Bend
East High School.
Having the first service dog at the school provides a lesson for
other students, said Assistant Principal Cassie Martin.
"It’s an excellent opportunity for them to experience
diversity in an educational setting," Martin said.
"Students have been very accepting of the situation. It gives
them an opportunity to ask questions and find how helpful a service
dog can be."
The dog, along with sign interpreters, allow Catherine Palm to be
taught in the mainstream of regular classes.
Bringing the hearing dog to school coincided with the creation of
a policy already being developed by the district on animals in
"It is a unique way to address the needs of an
individual," said Kathy Zarling, West Bend School District
administrator of pupil services. "We’re thrilled that it
worked out and that it was something that we could easily
To adopt Mattie, the Palms first obtained a doctor’s
prescription for a service dog.
Jean and Catherine Palm then traveled to Xenia, Ohio to meet
Mattie and train at 4 Paws For Ability.
The two-week training session was attended by 11 families, all
with service dogs for children, Jean Palm said.
"About half of the dogs there were seizure dogs, the other
half were for autistic children. Catherine’s was the only hearing
dog," she said.
Dogs in the class ranged from golden retrievers to an Australian
shepherd mix and two papillion.
"Often the bigger dogs are what most people associate with
service dogs and larger dogs are needed for mobility; a lead dog for
a blind person has to physically guide them," Jean Palm said.
Larger breed service dogs often retire by the age of 8, but a
smaller dog can have a longer working life, she said.
For Catherine Palm, training was "exhausting and fun,"
but she thinks Mattie had the harder part of the bargain.
"Mattie had a lot to practice and needed to realize that I
was the person she needed to alert now, not to alert her trainer any
more," says Catherine Palm said.
And Mattie is adjusting to Catherine Palm’s routine and life
with the Palm family.
"I don't think Mattie likes really cold weather, and you
know how winters are in Wisconsin," she said.