Family calling new service dog 'a lifeline'

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HARRODSBURG, Ky. (WKYT) -- A Mercer County, Kentucky family is adjusting to their new life as a family of five.

They are sharing their journey in hopes that it helps other families with similar needs and also educates the community about their new family member.

The new four-legged brother to Bryson and Braydon is much more than a family pet.

"If this animal can do what they say it can do, this can literally be a lifesaver to us... it is an answer to prayer," said Amy Branam

About two years ago, Branam says they were at a crossroads with their son, Bryson, who has autism.

"There's a lot of services but I felt like there was more that we could do," she said.

Branam learned about '4 Paws for Ability' online, sending in an application to the Ohio-based organization.

"Then our journey began," she said.

That journey started with the task of raising at least $15,000; something with the help of the community they completed in about two months

"Friends and family really came together because they saw the vision, too," Branam said.

Now about two years later, that vision is a reality, with Curtiss at home showing off what he was trained for.

"One thing Bryson does before he has a meltdown is, he will tense up a bit and squeal. He (Curtiss) just gives a little tap with his paw to interrupt that," explained Patrick Branam.

The Branams say Bryson also tends to wander off.

"He has no fear. There's no sense of fear," added Amy.

A potential tragedy with several swimming pools nearby, the family utilizes things like a message chain with neighbors and placed alarms on doors.

Responding to those calls for help is something Patrick is used to as a member of the Lexington Fire Department, however it is something he has also experienced in his role as dad.

"I've actually gotten the message, 'Bryson is missing'. That is something no parent wants to hear. You automatically start thinking of all the times you've seen that things didn't go right and start praying for the ones that did," explained Patrick.

Curtiss is trained to track the scent of his boy Byrson and Bryson only. The family says this is really where Curtiss comes in as a lifeline. They demonstrated as Curtiss went to work searching for Bryson, who was on the back porch of a neighbor's house. Curtiss found him in less than five minutes.

The just over a year-old pup is also able to divert that from hopefully ever happening.

"See how he is pulling him away from the door? So when Bryson goes to a door, Curtiss is going to try and keep him from going out before it even happens. He (Curtiss) circles him, so it is like a game and it is not upsetting to Bryson," explained Patrick.

A life-changer not just for the Barnams at home, but Curtiss will also take his work to kindergarten with Bryson in August, becoming the first service dog in Mercer County Schools. The Branamns say Curtiss will help his new best friend in many ways there including with communication.

"This gives him an opportunity for someone to ask to pet his dog or someone to ask Bryson what his dog's name is. Instead of them talking about Bryson like he's not there," said Amy.

Many things made easier for the now family of five, ordinary tasks like going to the grocery.

"This (grocery shopping) used to take, if one of us was by ourselves, it could take a couple hours. He would shop himself, put extra things in the cart, and sometimes just run off," explained Patrick.

Now tethered to his furry buddy and holding on to his leash.

"So this gives him a job and he is hanging out with his dog," said Patrick. "He used to have to have his iPad, he would want his blanket, and he used to want to be in a cart . He has none of those when he goes in the store now; he just has his dog."

The family, while still new to this new life, extremely grateful for the addition of 4 paws to their family, giving them a sense of relief and countless new opportunities.

The Branams hope by educating the community on the work of service dogs, it will help other families in need of one.

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