Fifteen-year-old Gracie Key was diagnosed with autism, depression and anxiety early on in life.

In hopes of helping Key, she was given a eight-week-old puppy by her sixth grade science teacher. Key named the pup Life-“Saber” because she believes the dog is her light saber.

“Dogs have changed my life. Instead of being balled up in my room all day thinking about what can I do, I am doing it now,” Key expresses.

For the past seven months, “Saber” and Key have been working with On Command K-9 Academy‘s service dog owner, Tim Franks.

“We approach service dog placement and training on a therapeutic level,” Franks says. “Not any dog can be a service dog. They have to have the right temperament and be responsive to training to do it. You have to be the right dog.”

In the beginning, Franks came to Key’s house, in Pineville, two to three times a week.

“Service dogs enable hope. Anyone that has a disability, regardless of what that is, consumes their whole life. By thinking of their disability all the time they develop depression and lose a connection with the real world. So, it’s not just about training the dog to perform tasks, it’s about developing a relationship between the individual and the dog itself.”

Eventually, the training transitioned into a public space. Every Saturday, Key, “Saber” and Franks would go to places Key normally visit in her everyday life, such as Walmart and Lowe’s. The team would spend an hour utilizing the tasks Saber learned at home to the public place.

“I use to always stick by my parents in public, I wouldn’t move away from them,” Key says. “Now with him, I wander around the store by myself because I don’t feel by myself. I have enough confidence to move around rather than sitting in one place and waiting.”

“The huge amount of changes I have seen in Gracie has been phenomenal. She has a sense of purpose to get out of bed every day, explains Key’s mother, Danea. “There’s been a huge positive change in her emotional outlook. She’s more open-minded and able to ask for help. He gives her the confidence she needs and a sense of purpose in life every day.”

As of Saturday, February 29th, Franks decided to visit the duo monthly. “Saber” will be a certified service dog in June 2020. Key will be able to bring the dog with her everywhere she goes.

“Seeing that for ourselves makes us want to give back. Once we are complete with “Saber” and Gracie’s training, we want to be able to give back to other people and give them what we have been blessed with.”

The family is partnering with Brock and Sherry Meeks from Hero’s Helping the Heartland in Memphis, Missouri to create a non-profit organization called “Saber- Life Foundation”.

“For years we struggled with trying to advocate and find a solution that would better help Gracie. We want to allow people to be who they need to be, who they are and live life to the fullest like anyone else.”

Key wants to become a voice for those who are losing a sense of purpose in life and become an emotional speaker or dog trainer. She has the ambition to change lives.

“If there’s anybody out there struggling, hopefully, they make it through and see there is something in life and it’s worth living,” Key says.

To help pay for the remaining training funds and advocate for people in need of service dogs, Key’s family is hosting a fundraiser dinner with a live and silent benefit auction. The event will be on March 13th at White Rock Elementary School in Jane, Missouri from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Dinner is included from Cowboy Catering Company, while it lasts. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children. More than 100 businesses are participating in this event.

If you are not able to attend, you may send a donation here.