Doug Williams brings Hamilton, his service dog trained by Chattanooga Goodwill Industries with funding raised by Hamilton County students, to show to students at Ooltewah High School. The dog's graduation ceremony was held at the school because Ooltewah students raised the most money of all the participating schools.Photo by John Rawlston.
Hamilton does many of the tasks you might expect of a service dog. He helps Doug Williams get dressed. He picks up fallen items from the floor, and he opens doors.
But the golden retriever also does things no one expected.
When Doug's wife, Shea, comes home from work each day, he retrieves her slippers without being asked. At night he turns down the covers on their bed. He even tries to tuck them in.
Williams, who has used a wheelchair since 2004, has multiple sclerosis and fatigues easily. So when Hamilton does small tasks like picking the remote off the floor, it makes a big difference.
"Just that one little thing saves me so much and gives me energy throughout the day," he said.
Much of Williams' improved quality of life is owed to Hamilton County public school students and teachers who rallied to raise $25,000 several years ago to complete the dog's training. Officials said students at every county school pitched in. But Ooltewah High School raised the most, contributing $1,150 to the cause.
"It's something that was done almost student-to-student all across this county," said Superintendent Rick Smith.
He and others gathered at Ooltewah on Thursday morning to thank students there for their effort. Students listened to the Williams family and presenters from Chattanooga Goodwill Industries, whose Assistance Dog Academy trained Hamilton.
When the district was collecting cash several years ago to help train an assistance dog, Shea Williams, a teacher at Thrasher Elementary, said she had no idea the pup would wind up in her home.
"You have just this year confirmed for me and my husband, Doug, that the future is in good hands," she told students.
Officials praised students in Ooltewah's leadership class, which organized the drive in 2009. Many times it's difficult to see the reward of giving, but the visit from Williams and Hamilton showed students a tangible result.
"It's kind of humbling," said senior Adam Hubert. "You get to see it from Mr. Williams' angle."
Doug Williams described the fundraising as a "pure act of compassion" on the part of area students and teachers. And he urged students to keep it up.
"Never shy away from doing good because you can't see the result right then," he said.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...