Zoey and Finley's Story

Posted on: in [ Placed Service Dog Teams ]

Placement | December 2020


Introducing Zoey and her official service dog Finley! Zoey and her family, along with their brand new companion Finley, passed their public access test making Zoey and Finley a placed Service Dog Team. They have been working diligently to make this happen and the team at Retrieving Freedom couldn't be more proud of the progress that has already been made. Congratulations, Zoey and Finley!


Zoey's Story

​Hello! My name is Zoey and I have Autism! I do not think like many other people or children my age. It takes me a little longer to process all of the information around me. When I was younger (about 6) my parents knew that I was different because I couldn't look someone in the eyes for very long. Instead of looking into their eyes, I would look at the wall behind them. When my mom asked me why, I would respond with, "eyes move." I would often look at the wall because it wasn't moving. Did you know that human eyes move when people talk? I don't know how to process that all of the "unseen" information and then communicate that to others. When I am not able to communicate with others properly I get very upset and have an anxiety attack or a melt down.

Mom said that in 2013 my daddy deployed to Afghanistan. He is an officer in the Army Reserves and that is when I got my official diagnosis for Autism. I remember at school transitions were the most difficult part of the day. I had a hard time putting one task down and moving to the next. Changing subjects was difficult because I wanted to make sure that I was able to go down my list. Now that I'm older, I am able to transition more smoothly but it is still the number one stressor at school.

At school my favorite subject is lunch time! Academically my "real" favorite time is when I can dive into a good book. My absolute least favorite subject is math (Mental Abuse To Humans). I am a big perfectionist and like to take my time processing all of the information that is thrown at me. Right now I am working on keeping my cool when the teacher goes too fast, or when the other students ask the same question over and over. I like to put my hands over my face and growl or yell (I'm working on not doing this). At the end of my last year of elementary, I received the Presidential Achievement Award because I made the most academic growth of the 6th graders (I ended the year as one of the top in my class).

One thing about me is that I do not always process social cues. I wonder why people do what they do, and act the way that they act and because of this, I don't usually associate or have many friends. Having a service dog will help me get out of my shell and help me talk to other people. My teacher once said that, "having autism is like living on an island and we need to work together to build a bridge to communicate." My dog will help me get out of my shell, decrease my anxiety, and help me build a bridge that connects me with the atypical world.

Finley's Journey

Stage 1 Introduction

Hello, I'm Finley. I am proud to have been selected to enter into the Retrieving Freedom training program.  My parents are “Gracie” who is originally from Kerry brook Labradors and is now fostered by the Ingersoll family, and "Olaf" of RidgeView Labradors. During this stage of training I will be spending approximately 8 months with my new volunteer foster, Lynne.

Throughout Stage 1, I will learn the basics obedience, public behavior, and a lot of socialization. I understand that it takes a very special dog to complete the program as there is a high standard to become a Service Dog. I am aware that I may be one of the dogs whose purpose is outside of service work so I will be updating my profile on a monthly basis for all that would like to follow my journey through the program.   

December 2018 - 2 months old


I have entered my new volunteer foster home! Lynne and her family promise to take good care of me over the next 8 months. I'm exhausted already from playing with my foster brothers and sister! Here I am pictured with my foster brother "Chance" and Santa.

January 2019 - 3 months old

I got to meet the man I'm named after, Michael Finley, this month! Mom says he's an inspiration and I'm lucky to have been named after him. I hope to make him proud throughout my training!

March 2019 - 5 months old


I am advancing well in my training. Here I am training with my gentle leader. It is important to switch up my training equipment often.

April 2019 - 6 months old

Look at my bandana! I am supporting Autism Awareness Month. If all goes well with my training, there's a 50% chance I'll be placed with a child with autism.

May 2019 - 7 months old

Mom took me to visit North Carolina. She says she's moving here soon and will have to leave me behind... I'm not sure I approve of this!

Stage 2 Introduction

Wahoo!!!  I have officially been entered into stage 2 training, and I am so excited!  Over the past 8 months I have had the opportunity to see the RFI mission first hand, and can’t wait to dig deeper in the mission of changing lives through my training for veterans with disabilities and children with autism.  This training stage will be another 8 months of working within the Retrieving Freedom Impact programs.  Currently these impact programs include working with college students, at-risk teens, summer campers, inmates, and elementary students. During this Stage, I will also work closely with the RFI professional training staff to solidify my understanding of intermediate tasks and the foundation of future commands to help mitigate a disability.  Follow me through this stage learning how I continue to make an impact! 

August 2019 - 10 months old

My foster dad brought me out of the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) for the weekend and we went to watch the races! I wasn't bothered at all by the loudness of the environment, the crowds, or the food all over the ground.

October 2019 - 1 year old!

My foster mom Lynne came back to visit - great timing, too - I just turned ONE! 

November 2019 - 13 months old


I began going home with a volunteer weekend foster family pretty consistently this month. They have young kids that I love playing with, and then snuggling with when we are all tired. Weekend foster homes are a great option for getting me out of the kennel and continuing my public training, but also to get used to living in a home again.

December 2019 - 14 months old


Merry Christmas! I loved being home with my weekend foster family to watch the joy on their faces as they opened each gift. They also got me a new toy! I'm so lucky.

January 2020 - 15 months old

This month I got to meet my Wartburg College student, who I will be partnered with for the next few months. Let's see what we can accomplish together!

April 2020 - 18 months old


The semester with my Wartburg student was cut short due to a global pandemic. I have been working diligently with my trainer and miss seeing my foster friends on weekends! I am continuing with task training and working toward Stage 3 of training.

June 2020 - 20 months old

I am so excited to be training in public again! In my free time, I play with all my friends at RFI. Here I am pictured with Boo.

Stage 3 Introduction

Over the last year and a half I have been working diligently to get to this part of training... Stage 3! During this stage I will begin to meet potential recipients, learn final training tasks, finish up my role in the impact programs, and complete the 100 required one-on-one hours with my future recipient. This stage is a 4 to 6 month process, and I understand there is still a chance that I might not complete the program due to health or performance. I'm looking forward to sharing with you about my first visits with potential recipients, trips into public, and other highlights throughout my final stage of training.

August 2020 - 22 months old

It's important to partake in a good play session followed by a photo-op after a long day of training! I have been working closely with a hopeful recipient. Time to finalize some of my tasks and continue bonding with them!

September 2020 - 23 months old


I'm enjoying my final visits to weekend foster homes (pictured here with "Luna" who is a pet in the home I went to!) before beginning weekend visits with my potential person. 

October 2020 - 2 years old!

I celebrated my second birthday this month! I was given a special treat, belly rubs, and extra play time with my siblings on our birthday. I completed my first weekend visit with my potential placement. We had so much fun together!

1 comment

  • The Thompson's - Minnesota | Dec 16th 2020 @ 3:07 PM

    This fills my heart with joy! and my eyes with tears (of happiness of course!). Crazy story, we have one of finley's liter mates, her name is also finley (she is a black lab from the liter). I know your finley has a warm, loving heart and will be you pal for life! I know this as our finley has been a god send for us and she fills our hearts with joy everyday! I wish you all the best on your journey with your new best friend! I know it will be one to cherrish! and sister Finley sends her love!

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