Posted by Bob Wicks on Dec 07, 2020
On November 7, 2019, disabled Marine veteran Micaila Britto was granted guardianship of a Grant Dane service Dog from the ‘Service Dog Project’ in Ipswich.  This gift was made possible by a $20,000 District Grant put together by the Ipswich Rotary Club.  Since then, her dog Rabbit has become her best friend and an indispensable part of her life.
Micaila visited the Ipswich Rotary virtual meeting last Thursday to bring us up to date on her first year with Rabbit, named for her litter and the iconic ‘Winnie the Pooh’ character.  Ms. Rabbit, as she calls her, stands 31 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds.  
This all came about due to a traumatic, life changing injury that Micaila suffered while on active duty with the US Marine helicopter launch and recovery unit.  The chronically painful effects of her injury include balance and mobility issues.  Fortunately for Micaila, the Service Dog Project gives preference to veterans and first responders.  When Ipswich Rotarians learned of her plight, they acted quickly.
She was put in touch with Service Dog founder, Carlene White, to begin the ‘candidate’ process.  It starts with volunteering, and this is where she met her Rotary sponsor, long-time Service Dog volunteer Betsy Frost.  One of the dogs Betsy fosters is Rabbit’s grandmother.  If Micaila was going to get a service dog, she would need help covering the $20,000 fee which includes the costs of raising and training the dog.  Working with clubs across the District, which serves the North Shore, Boston and part of New Hampshire, Ipswich Rotary raised the money through a District Grant of $10,000 and contributions from other clubs.
The process from candidate to evaluation moved rather quickly for Micaila.  After several months of volunteering, the next step was to meet the evaluation team, which included Betsy and another Rotarian, the Rev. Dr. Sandra Whitley.  Dr. Whitley is a Past President of the Rotary Club in Chelsea, where she is pastor of the People’s AME Church.  At this stage, Micaila learned that Rotary was sponsoring the donation for her dog.  It was determined that due to her size and mobility challenges, she would need a ‘taller than normal’ dog, but not too bulky.  Since Rabbit fit the bill, they began working together.  
The next step in evaluation is the ‘Guest House’, where she and Rabbit would spend the night and do a regular home routine.  Almost immediately, Rabbit showed signs of bonding.  The next day, when they began sessions with Rabbit’s trainer, the dog re-bonded with the trainer.  It turns out, that is normal.  Very quickly, the trainer determined that Micaila and Rabbit were very much in sync.  
After a few days, Micaila was told she would be ‘going home’.  At first, she thought she had failed and would not be taking a dog home.  But then, it was explained that she would be going home with food and supplies and asked what color vest she preferred; her choice was yellow, a Marine color.  After loading the supplies into her car, they practiced loading Rabbit.  The ‘Match Photo’ event sealed the deal, Micaila was going home with a dog!  
A resident of Taunton, Micaila quickly returned to work as the Veterans Affairs Director in Raynham.  She now has the help of Rabbit as she attends events such as honoring Gold Star families.  According to Micaila, Rabbit enjoys working ‘more than I do’, and she often receives more attention from the people they meet.  Although long-term walking still is ‘very tiring’, she cannot imagine her life now without her beloved friend and companion. 
Photo appreciation cards were sent to every donor, and Micaila and Rabbit soon discovered that they were an item.  Their story was featured on Channel 25 News, in a Rotary video interview with then District Governor Joan Arsenault and Bob Gravino, and in several newspapers.  
To read more about Micaila Britto and ‘Ms. Rabbit’, visit their Facebook pages.