Most of us aren’t lucky enough to spend every day with our best friend. However, NoVinian of the Year Katie Miller is lucky enough to spend all her time with hers, a service dog named Ryder. Miller and Ryder spend their days at Annandale’s Phillips School, a private, nonprofit school for children with special needs.
Miller, a native of Maryland, first found herself at Phillips School in 2009 while interning there as a graduate student. Soon after receiving her master’s in social work, she accepted a position at Phillips as a therapeutic foster care worker through Phillips Teaching Homes. Two years later, she received her license to provide therapy and became a full-time counselor at Phillips. While beginning her career at the school, Miller was supervised by Susan Pfeffer, who worked with a service dog from Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that provides service dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.
Watching Pfeffer change the lives of students with her service dog helped Miller realize that she too could make a difference. “I didn’t know where in the Northern Virginia area I’d end up professionally, but I knew that wherever it would be, my work would be strengthened by a service dog.”
Miller joined the waiting list for Canine Companions for Independence and was able to complete training and bring Ryder home to Phillips this past fall. Already, Miller notes, she can see the positive effects Ryder has on her students: “The students and staff really enjoy her presence and look forward to seeing her at school each day … she is able to provide a listening ear, a calm presence and a self-esteem-boosting lick on the face. In that sense, she really helps students regulate their emotions when they are upset.”
After already achieving so much by having Ryder at her side, Miller anticipates even more success in the future for the children she helps. “My goal each and every day that Ryder and I come to school is to improve the lives of the Phillips students. No matter how small our impact is, whether the student realizes now, in 10 years or never, I just want to be a part of their transformation.” (June 2016)