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By Ann Arbor Miller, Published April 27 2009

In View: "Lesson of a Lifetime"

At the age of 8, Hannah Papenfuss had plenty of reasons to want a dog.

“I have CP (it stands for cerebral palsy) which means I can’t walk and am in a wheelchair,” Hannah wrote in letter to Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that pairs individuals with trained assistance dogs. “Sometimes I have problems opening doors or dropping stuff and not being able to pick it up so my parents would have to get up and down a lot for me, but with a helper dog they wouldn’t have to do as much.

“I see kids doing things I want to do. Maybe the dog would help me when I’m sad.”

Fortunately for Hannah, her family - mom Dawn, dad Larry and older brother Luke - supported the young girl’s wish. They believed the addition would help Hannah achieve more independence, while also providing extra comfort.

The process took two years, but led to the lesson of a lifetime.

In February, Hannah and her mom spent two weeks in Ohio for an intensive training session. They met eligible dogs, mastered commands and hoped Hannah would be matched with a “sweet and gentle” Labrador-golden retriever cross named Britta.

One day Hannah, 10, asked Dawn a simple question, “Mom, do you think my disability is a blessing?”

“What do you think?” Dawn replied.

Hannah responded thoughtfully. She can’t walk without assistance and longs to do what other kids can. Simple tasks for others aren’t so simple for her.

But then Hannah thought about all the special people in her life. The physical therapists and animals like Britta that she gets to meet and work with because of cerebral palsy and its impact on her body.

It’s a match that helped one Moorhead girl discover blessings everywhere and in everything.

For more information: Canine Companions for Independence provides trained assistance dogs to children and adults with physical or developmental disabilities. The non-profit organization was established in 1975 in California. To learn more, visit www.cci.org online or call (800) 572-2275.

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This is the last installment of “In View” by Fargo-based photojournalist Ann Arbor Miller. Look in this same place next week for a new weekly Forum photo feature.