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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A helping paw

A+Helping+Paw
Photo by Courtesy of Texas A&M University
A Helping Paw

When 14-year-old Austin Stelly arrived at Texas A&M with his family Friday afternoon, he was expecting to see a service dog do tricks. Instead, he was surprised by something greater — his very own service dog.
Stelly was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscle Dystrophy (DMD) as a young boy and has overcome many battles along the way. Trina Stelly, Austin’s mother, applied to many nonprofit organizations to get him a service dog before finding a match with the nonprofit organization Homes for Animal Heroes, which places animals used in research and study with families and individuals. Those dogs are adopted by people needing a service dog.
“I wanted Austin to have a companion for a while, but things got in the way and when I was applying the main reason was that he was too sick to go through the process at the time,” Trina Stelly said. “This gives us a lot of hope. It just makes a difference for the quality of life for Austin. Sometimes you don’t get that quality, but you have to enhance the quality of life.”
DMD is a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, mainly affecting boys from ages 3 to 5.
The dog that the Stelly family was surprised with was trained by an Aggie family. Kristen Cox has been an advocate for research ever since her son, Kyle Cox, was diagnosed with DMD.
Astro, the 8-month-old golden retriever mix, was named after the Houston Astros because he was born the day after the baseball team won the 2017 World Series.
Kyle Cox has beaten the odds and is now a 22-year-old A&M graduate who will be attending the Bush School for his master’s degree in the fall.
“When I found out my son was diagnosed with Duchenne’s and was told that he going to live to when he was 20, I searched around and knew there was something that had to be done especially knowing there wasn’t much out there with a lot of barriers in the way,” Kristen Cox said.
As her son has grown throughout the years, Kristen Cox has been a huge advocate for DMD research. She connected with the Stelly family at a hospital in Cincinnati, where both their sons were receiving treatment. Austin Stelly saw Kyle’s service dog and fell in love with it.
Kyle Cox has had a service dog since the third grade and said he has seen how it has enhanced his daily activities such as opening and closing doors, picking up dropped objects and helping turning off lights.
“Having a service dog has been beneficial to my life,” Kyle Cox said. “My favorite is when I walk around campus with my dog, it has really turned me into a chick magnet.”
Cox got in contact with A&M veterinarian and College Station regional coordinator for Homes for Animal Heroes, Anita Richert.
Richert’s responsibilities include matching service animals with their perfect owner. She has placed 33 dogs from A&M with families, her most recent being the Stelly family.
“Linking up these dogs to homes, while also make a difference from both ends is truly powerful,” Richert said.
Kristen Cox said she is sad to see Astro leave her family, but knows there is a greater purpose.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet goodbye for the Cox family, but still a reason to be proud and make a difference,” Cox said.

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