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Giving Back

Pet Wellness Animal Hospital is committed to improving the quality of life for every animal, and enhancing the connection between pets and their owners through community service. Below you can learn more about our programs and involvement in our community.

Meet Merlin

Merlin is the FIRST Facility Dog in the Vestavia Hills City Schools and joined the staff of Vestavia Hills Elementary West (VHEW) in May of 2022.

Pet Wellness Animal Hospital is proud to provide Merlin with free preventative care and we cover his Trupanion health insurance.

Service Dogs of Alabama (SDA) is a nonprofit organization located in Hope Hull, AL. Their mission is to “train dogs who change lives” and they have placed over 100 dogs to people/facilities in Alabama! The dogs are placed in schools, court rooms, and to individuals and veterans requiring medical and psychological assistance.

Meet Merlin Service Dog
Dawn Norris- primary handler (right)
Emily Foster- secondary handler (left)

In February of 2020 after completing research and getting approval from the school district, the application to get a facility dog was completed by Dawn Norris, school counselor at VHEW. Once the application was complete, the waiting and anticipation began!

In April of 2022, more than two years later, we got the call letting us know a dog was ready for our sweet school! Dawn Norris and Emily Foster, both school counselors at VHEW, made the trip to Hope Hull, AL! They stayed on the SDA campus in cabins and were immersed in intensive training for five days, which included field trips to Montgomery Academy to practice being in a classroom and working with students. Everywhere we went, Merlin went. We worked on bonding and learned so much in that short amount of time.

Merlin is a three-and-a-half-year-old black lab and has been in training since shortly after he was born. He spent time in a prison training program, with puppy raisers, and receiving specialized training on the SDA campus. Merlin knows 50+ commands! Merlin works with the children and staff of VHEW! Dawn Norris, school counselor, is the primary handler of Merlin. Each morning, we wake up, have breakfast, and then get ready for work. Merlin wears a collar, bandana, and a gentle lead at work. He knows once the gear goes on in the morning that he is in working mode. At work, his schedule changes, just like that of a school counselor. Wherever there is a need, you will find Merlin. Some days, he may attend small group sessions with students on topics such as social skills or friendship, or be in a classroom guidance lesson with an entire class of students. He may work with a child who is feeling sad or help a scared child to come into the building from carpool. He is a great listener and provides snuggles to both students and staff!

In the nine days he was at VHEW before summer vacation began, the work he did was extraordinary. He fulfills a need for many that humans cannot replicate.  We are so thankful to have this special dog at VHEW!

Merlin’s Instagram account is…. @Magnificent.Merlin.VHEW