From rescued dog to service dog

Merlot the German shepherd smiling in front of a smiling person
Merlot was homeless and needed emergency surgery, but now she’s helping her new person cope with anxiety and PTSD.
By Natalie Wordtmann

The best types of friendships are those that happen organically, where things simply fall into place as if they were always meant to be. Such was the case for Morgan Angle, who was seeking a canine companion to help her navigate life as she suffered from anxiety, a seizure disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though Morgan originally intended to get a puppy through a service dog organization, her plans changed when she learned that in the state of Utah she could train her own service dog.

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When Morgan learned about Merlot, a German shepherd with soulful eyes who needed a home, she had to meet her. And when she did, the connection was instantaneous. Sometimes relationships just fall into place.

Swift action helps ailing German shepherd

Not long ago, Merlot needed help, too. She was brought to Best Friends in Utah from a local Salt Lake City shelter, and right away the team noticed that she struggled to urinate. Scans revealed a sizeable bladder stone that would have to be surgically removed.

Since Merlot was likely in pain (though it wasn’t obvious from her easygoing, gentle demeanor), the team immediately scheduled her for surgery, which was successful, providing sweet Merlot with relief. Vets also started her on a new prescription diet to help prevent bladder stones from recurring. She then settled in at the lifesaving center to recover, while the adoption team worked to match her with a new home. That didn’t take long at all.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

An excited Morgan met Merlot just four days after the surgery. She always had a spot for German shepherds, drawn to their caring, protective nature and their intelligence.

Rose Wolfer, a Best Friends lifesaving specialist who introduced Merlot and Morgan, says watching them meet for the first time was “one of the sweetest things ever.” “The two of them immediately connected. Merlot gave her kisses and rested her head in Morgan's lap, and Morgan began to tear up. She was so touched by Merlot's warmness.” Adopting Merlot, Morgan adds, was an easy decision.

Taking storms and adventures in stride

Morgan was excited to start the next chapter of life with Merlot, but the two would first have to weather a few storms together. While Merlot was still recovering from her surgery, Morgan was also in and out of the hospital dealing with her own medical issues. On the bright side, she had a chance to see just how calming Merlot’s presence was for her. And although Merlot hadn’t yet started service dog training, providing Morgan with comfort in a time of need seemed to come naturally.

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“Whenever I go to the hospital, Merlot always lies on top of me on the hospital bed,” says Morgan. “She seems to know how terrified of hospitals I am and is always determined not to leave my side.”

Add to all this a move and even a car accident (in which, thankfully, no one was seriously injured), and it’s clear that these two endured a lot together in a short period of time. Fortunately, they were side by side every step of the way. "My little trooper has taken it all in stride,” says Morgan. “But that’s just another amazing thing about Merlot: She is always up for a new adventure.”

Learning and growing together

Together nearly four months, Morgan and Merlot are doing very well. Morgan, who considers finding Merlot to be quite a miracle, has noticed improvements in all areas of her life.

“Before I got Merlot, I was terrified to leave my house,” she says. “It was hard to go to church and go grocery shopping, and hanging out with friends seemed impossible. I had to leave the house because Merlot needed to be walked. Even if I couldn't leave the house for my own well-being, I could do it for Merlot.”

Today, Merlot is progressing with her service dog training. As she proved since day one with Morgan, helping people comes naturally to her, given her sensitivity and attention to detail. In fact, Merlot gets excited whenever she sees her “Service Dog in Training” vest and can’t wait to wear it.

Since adopting Merlot, Morgan has discovered just how transformative and healing the relationships between people and pets can be. “While the road with Merlot hasn't been easy, I wouldn't change a thing about it,” she says. “I love her with my whole heart and am so lucky to have her in my life.”

Be it either fate or good fortune, Morgan and Merlot are lucky to have each other.

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