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Teacher Who Introduced Therapy Dogs Now Relies on Them For Her Own Recovery

When Lisa Clark raised her left leg a few inches up from the floor for the very first time since the accident, her precious Tally was there to see her do it.

You may well call it a coincidence that she accomplished this task while her 8-year-old boxer, a certified therapy dog, was sitting close by. However Clark and her loved ones could argue.

The dog’s capability to assist people through tough times is why Clark, who teaches first and second grade at Lawrence’s Schwegler School, introduced therapy dogs to the Lawrence school district, about 20 years ago. She’s seen them comfort students struggling with conditions like anxiety, cerebral palsy and autism.

Today things came full circle, as those same dogs help her recuperate from a severe spinal injury.

Clark was riding horseback near Clinton Lake at the beginning of October when her horse stepped into a hornet’s nest and, “started bucking like a rodeo horse.”

“Luckily, I was wearing my helmet,” explained Clark, 58.

No matter, the impact of the fall broke her back, damaged a vertebrae, punctured her lungs and broke her ribs. She was life-flighted to Kansas University Hospital, where surgeons operated on her spine for roughly 8 hours. A couple of weeks later, she was moved to the Kansas Rehabilitation Hospital in Topeka, where, ever since, she has been carrying out rigorous physical therapy for 4 hours every weekday.

Just before heading into surgery, she asked Angie Rexroad, a fellow therapy dog handler whose boxer works with students at Schwegler, to look after Tally because Clark’s husband travels for work. That as well meant Rexroad could carry on to bring Tally to school.

That is not the only location Rexroad now takes Tally.

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On a recent day at the Topeka rehab facility, Rexroad walked her own dog, Rex, and Tally into the gym where Clark was doing therapy. The sight of the dogs put immediate smiles on the faces of patients who were obviously in pain. A woman sitting in a wheelchair close to the entry called Tally over and began petting and kissing her. “Tally has a friend today,” mentioned one of the physical therapists.

“She’s pretty well known here,” Rexroad said.

Rexroad walked Tally and Rex over to Clark, compelling her to crack a smile, about the solely movement she could muster above her neck, which was fitted with a brace.

The dogs sat by as Clark attempted to teach her muscles how to move once again. Clark attempted to stand up with the help of a walker. She ultimately made it happen on her second try, however a couple of seconds later fell back to the bed, complaining of leg spasms.

She tried once more, looking to completely focus on every breath while her physical therapists massaged her knees and back. She stood up much longer this time, but at some point had to sit back down, looking pained and worn out. Tally panted and looked out the window.

Clark, who was raised in Lawrence, began training and showing dogs when she was in high school. Years back, at the suggestion of her vet, she started out training them for another Kansas school district along with the statewide service-dog organization. Clark worked with the dogs from the time they were puppies, bringing them to Schwegler throughout the school day. As soon as they were all set, she would give them to their new handler.

“She can take a puppy and fall in love with it and be OK with giving it to someone in much more need than she is,” explained Rexroad. “Now she’s in a situation where she needs Tally.”

Clark got Tally 8 years ago to be a full-time service dog at Schwegler. Tally and Rex, who is 4, help students with special needs, and also kids who are simply having a bad day and require a pick-me-up. The dogs offer “unconditional love,” as Rexroad says, kissing and hugging the children and taking them on walks during recess.

Christy McWhirt, a second-grade teacher who has taught across the hall from Clark for the past 9 years, says students and teachers alike love Clark. “It’s amazing how many people stop by and ask if Lisa’s OK,” she mentioned. Friends a short while ago sold “Lisa Strong” T-shirts to aid offset the expenses of making Clark’s home wheelchair accessible.

Clark still hopes she can come back to teaching. The next 6 months to a year will determine a great deal, since that’s usually the amount of the time spinal injuries take to heal. In either case, her beloved Tally will be by her side, helping lift her spirits.

“I love seeing my dogs,” Clark mentioned. “You see them and you can forget for a little while.”

Not just does she miss her canine friends, but she’s having an equally difficult time being far from her students.

“One little boy wrote me a card. He remembered this little saying the children and I developed last year,” said Clark, who’s been taking his words of encouragement to heart. “He wrote in the card: “I can. I’ll try. I’ll do my best.'”

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