Bella’s Buddies was born from one family's life-changing experience with long-term illness, grief, loss and the beautiful path to healing through serving others. After two years of misdiagnoses by twelve medical professionals, founder Amanda Davis was diagnosed in 2003 with Tracheal Stenosis, a narrowing of the airway due to a negligent intubation during the birth of her second child. TS continually grows scar tissue along the inside of the trachea and narrows the pathway through which we get air. After several years searching for the right doctors and best treatments, the family was eventually blessed to be treated by Dr. Steven Zeitels at Massachusetts General Hospital, who, over the years, performed many surgeries, eventually stabilizing Amanda’s trachea through a transplant and chemotherapy. Even with all the treatments and procedures, Amanda’s airway remains a very small 5-6 millimeters in diameter. A public educator for twenty years, Amanda had increasingly invested in her own education, obtaining a Masters in Education Leadership, with graduate studies in School Superintendency and Conflict Resolution. Following transplant surgery in 2012, Amanda was no longer able to teach in the public sector due to her weakened immune system.
On the days Amanda felt good, she began sharing her dog, Piper, with students at her former school. Having retained her state certifications, Amanda was able to go into classrooms with Piper to offer behavior support. Amanda worked with teachers, principals and counselors to address campus climate issues and eventually began allowing Piper to help with CPS caseworker interviews. Amanda continued to volunteer with Piper until she added a second dog, Bella, who is now a service dog partner to her buddy, Ron, a Vietnam veteran who lives in northern Arkansas. Amanda gradually added more dogs and established a positive working relationship with Retrieving Freedom, a service dog organization based in Waverly, IA. The Davis family carefully planned and executed a breeding program, Golden Rule Retrievers, LLC, that now donates puppies for service and therapy dog training across the nation.
Bringing the story of Bella’s Buddies full circle is the amazing journey of the healing process. Amanda’s father was a career fighter pilot during Vietnam. He brought home with him ghosts that he never escaped in his lifetime. The Davis family had always been involved in the lives of veterans in their community because of Amanda’s desire to help veterans, but it wasn’t until Amanda’s transplant that they realized the full impact their program could have on the lives of the men and women who have served our country using well-trained dogs. With the help of teams from Harvard and MIT, Dr. Zeitels fashioned for Amanda a new trachea using a donor aorta. A soldier who selflessly gave his life in Afghanistan helped to save Amanda’s life by giving his heart so that she could continue to breathe. This amazing story solidified and further encouraged Davis’ work with veterans. Chaplains at Fort Hood have been gifted golden retrievers or golden-doodles to help them in their daily tasks of counseling and ministering to soldiers and their families. Gunner, a golden retriever, is stationed with a chaplain at Fort Bragg with the Warrior Transition Battalion, where he is working to help injured soldiers transition into civilian life following traumatic deployments.
Bella’s Buddies dogs have aided in situations of significant loss. In 2016, 12 members of the DogSquad spent three days at the Dallas Police Headquarters following the deaths of five officers. The Davises helped to start a canine program for a residential facility for underage victims of human trafficking, with girls as young as ten years old. They have comforted victims of violent crimes in courtrooms and accompanied children during investigative interviews. They have cuddled close to children undergoing chemotherapy infusions and minor procedures in children’s hospitals. These environments are not suitable for just any dog. Bella’s Buddies shapes and molds inherited traits and behavioral characteristics, and teaches canine candidates when to use them.
Service dogs can cost anywhere from $10,000 to as much as $36,000. The Davis family knows and understands what a working dog can do for a sick patient. They have been down the road that is littered with medical bills, electricity cut-off notices and travel expenses due to the huge costs of a family member's declining health. It is during times like these that a dog with manners can be most helpful to a patient and family, yet coming up with the money to buy and train a dog can not be on the priority list at such a trying time. So the family set out to narrow the gap. Previously, 100% of the services provided were at the cost of the Davis family and Golden Rule Retrievers, LLC. The establishment of Bella’s Buddies can now ease the financial burdens of the canine programs that serve in communities across the nation as a 501 C-3 nonprofit corporation.
The mission of Bella’s Buddies is to provide and train Golden Retrievers and Golden-doodles for work in therapy and service. Not all dogs are cut out for service or therapy, but every single golden raised at Bella’s Buddies is teachable. We assess puppies from the day they are born, tracking their progress and potential, using working and behavioral scales as they grow to determine with whom they will bond and which placements are best suited for their temperaments.
Our partnership with Centerville ISD in Leon County, Texas, has been exponentially successful. Students and teachers work throughout the year training tasks while achieving their own academic goals. Data driven evaluations reveal that the school campuses experienced fewer discipline referrals, higher attendance among teachers and students, increased student participation in extra-curricular activities, improved communication during conflicts and overall positive changes in the school climate. Impressively, state test scores in classrooms in which dogs were present throughout the school year experienced an average of 7% increase in individual scores over the previous year. Most importantly, students report they not only feel a responsibility to their community, but a desire to take active roles in making their corner of the world a better place.
In early 2019, Bella’s Buddies filed for non-profit status due to a budding relationship with the Veterans Land Board and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. The pledge to place a facility dog in each of the eight, soon to be nine, veterans homes, specifically in the memory care wings which house veterans who have lived daily with PTSD for years, will require additional funding.