Scorpio sleeps through most lecture classes he attends at the University of Georgia, and he’s still the teacher’s favorite.
But Scorpio isn’t technically the teacher’s pet; he’s the service dog for Tyler Burrell, a fourth-year international affairs and communication studies major. Burrell has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Scorpio is her mobility assistance dog. He helps Burrell with her balance. He can retrieve and help Burrell carry items like small bags.
“He’s the unofficial mascot of any class that we’re a part of,” she said. “Everyone loves to have him in the class. He’s very well behaved.”
He knows more than 80 commands, including how to turn on a light and how to throw trash away in a trashcan. He’s trained in bracing and counterbalance. He knows deep pressure therapy—and how to lie across a body to decrease pain. He can push blood back up into the upper body. “He’s like a heating pad—a living, breathing heating pad,” said Burrell.
Scorpio celebrated his third birthday in August. He spent around two years in training learning his mobility specialty before coming to UGA in March.
He’s from New Horizons Service Dogs, a nonprofit that breeds and selects the “top of the top” golden retrievers, according to Burrell. The dogs go through puppy raisers and prison programs. They are trained for months before being matched with their human. Some dogs go through advanced training, where they’re honed into a specialty such as mobility, PTSD or autism.
Since Scorpio was exceptional at retrieval and has great balance, he was selected to be a mobility dog. Some dogs are more sensitive to moods and could serve as PTSD dogs. Dogs that aren’t easily perturbed make good autism dogs. There are also seizure alert dogs, narcolepsy alert dogs and cardiac alert dogs.
Scorpio loves to work and help his handler. “He is so proud about doing even the simplest of tasks well, like carrying a letter for me or throwing something away,” she said. “He was really excited the first time he put something into a grocery cart for me, and the time he picked up a hotel keycard off of a tile floor. He just gets an extra pep in his step when he knows he helped me. Nothing makes him happier than if he knows he did a good job.”
He is so devoted that he doesn’t like to drink water while his working vest is on and has to be coaxed by Burrell. He would rather drink water when he’s off duty—so he doesn’t have to worry about his handler taking him on bathroom breaks while he’s navigating a busy campus.
When Scorpio is off-duty he gets time to play and be a regular dog and relax. When his vest is off, he’s goofier. Fetching a tennis ball is his favorite.
Burrell describes Scorpio as a “mellow, relaxed, go-with-the-flow dog. Nothing fazes him,” she said.
If Burrell is in class or meeting with friends, Scorpio is napping near her feet. He naps everywhere from movie theaters to the Tate Student Center. “I go through my day watching him sleep,” Burrell said. “He is living the life.”
It’s actually a perfect match.
“If I had a more high-energy dog, that would not be a good match,” she said. “I need a nap. I live a low-key lifestyle, and we’re able to make that work.”
And it’s exactly what Burrell wanted. She grew up with dogs and loves having a dog.
“I didn’t realize the impact of having him by my side,” she said. “I have a smiling face to work with every day. He gives me motivation to get out of bed on mornings I would rather stay in bed. He just has unconditional love, and it’s overwhelming. It’s incredible how blessed I am to have him.”
For another story on Burrell and Scorpio click here.