Max becomes service dog for woman with epilepsy

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FOX 5 Atlanta is proud and excited to announce some wonderful news regarding our sweet Golden Retriever, Max...He's officially become a service dog for a veteran family! 

On Monday, June 18, Max was matched with his forever person, an incredible woman named Leigh. It was love at first sight! 

Thirty years ago, when Leigh was a teenager, she was involved in a horrific car wreck that left her partially paralyzed and without the ability to speak. Determined to overcome adversity, Leigh not only relearned to walk and talk, she also graduated high school and college. She even earned two master's degrees. However, her traumatic brain injury has caused her to suffer from lifelong seizures, which occur without warning. That's meant three decades of constant worry for her mother, Linda, and her father, Jim, who's retired from 20 years as a Marine and more than 30 as a Delta pilot. 

"She can't live by herself. I don't want her by herself. I worry about everything," Linda told FOX 5. "We're just afraid. We're parents."

Leigh has spent the last five years hoping, praying, and waiting on a service dog from Canine Assistants. And our sweet Max has finally become the answer to her prayers. Max will spend the rest of his life serving Leigh and her veteran family as a seizure response dog. 

For Leigh, getting a service dog means a measure of independence and confidence in public which she hasn’t experienced since the crash, and her parents said the animal will provide a sense of peace they haven’t felt in 30 years. 

"When I have a seizure, I don't know I'm gonna have it," Leigh told FOX 5. "The dog will be there and hopefully tell me and I'll be able to get somewhere to where I'll be okay."

Max and Leigh officially started their new chapter together after a special recipient graduation ceremony, which was held at Canine Assistants Thursday evening. Max and Leigh were among the graduates. 

"I still am shocked at this amazing canine gift," Leigh told Good Day Atlanta's Paul Milliken. "Thanks to you and your staff, I'm pretty sure Max is smarter than myself." 

Leigh said our FOX 5 "mascot" will be cherished and spoiled to the end. 

You may have noticed how Max wasn't on Good Day Atlanta the last two weeks... that's because Max and Leigh have been spending many hours working together daily at recipient camp. His last day at FOX 5 was on Thursday, June 14. You also may have noticed we first introduced Leigh on Good Day Atlanta several weeks ago as her family prepared to begin camp. 

“Operation Max” was established in 2016 when FOX 5 began a partnership with Canine Assistants, which is a non-profit organization based out of Milton, Georgia. They pair 75-100 dogs annually with people who have difficulty with mobility, epilepsy, Type 1 diabetes as well as dogs in pediatric hospitals and rehab centers.  

Max's first day "on the job" at FOX 5 was January 17, 2017. He was just 12-weeks-old at the time and weighed less than 20 pounds. 

Max spent the first 12 weeks of his life at Canine Assistants before moving in with his small team of FOX 5 fosters. His core foster team consisted of three FOX 5 employees, including Donna Bell, Katie Muse Burk, and Susan Kicak. Donna works as an account executive in our sales department, Katie is a digital producer for FOX 5 News, and Susan also works in the news department as a producer for Good Day Atlanta. Throughout Operation Max, his fosters worked closely with his Canine Assistants instructor, Kristen Hill.

PHOTOS: Max and his FOX 5 fosters 

Donna, Katie, and Susan fostered Max for a total of 17 months, and during that time he went on many adventures. Some of his experiences included Falcons games, Atlanta United games, Georgia Tech women's basketball games, spending time on the field at the Georgia Dome, as well as trips to New York, Washington, D.C., the north Georgia mountains, Florida, and the Georgia Governor's Mansion. He also made lots of friends while at FOX 5, including the Harlem Globetrotters, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, Santa Claus, and many celebrity guests on Good Day Atlanta. 

For his final FOX 5 public outing, Max's fosters took him to a Braves game at SunTrust Park. 

Max formed loving bonds with each of his fosters, with the intention of forming an even stronger bond with Leigh, which has already happened! In addition to the secure attachments Max formed, he also learned many skills, such as identifying colors, objects, and shapes, tugging a bandana to open doors and drawers, staying in sync, mimicking behavior, answering questions with his nose or paws, plus so much more. He's also incredibly gentle, calm, understands what "patience" means, and he's a pro at settling.

Over the last 17 months, Max appeared every weekday morning on Good Day Atlanta. Thank you so much to our GDA viewers for welcoming Max into your homes each morning, and becoming so invested in Operation Max. 

It's bittersweet saying goodbye to our loving, four-legged co-worker, but he's destined for bigger and better things. FOX 5 is so proud of Max and how far he's come and we can't wait to continue sharing his story as he begins this next chapter with Leigh and her family. 

In honor of Max’s graduation, we’re looking back at some of his milestones at FOX 5: