Andrea Cohen admits she would rather be behind the camera — not in front of it. But the Horizon High School graduate spent months in the spotlight when her efforts to train a service dog at school were shot down by administrators.
Cohen eventually won out, and Saturday marked the end of the saga, when her yellow Labrador retriever named Elizabeth officially graduated as a Power Paws Assistance Dog.
Now Cohen is headed to Michigan State University to become a veterinarian. She’s not sure whether a dog is allowed in the dorms, but she said she learned a lot from her experience.
“I learned don’t give up on what you’re doing if you know it’s right,” she said.
The story began in 2005 when Cohen wrote a letter to Horizon High principal Anthony Capuano requesting permission to bring Elizabeth on campus.
What followed was a series of rejections from Capuano and the Paradise Valley Unified School District governing board.
Cohen attended meetings, wrote letters and collected signatures for petitions. She didn’t want to take no for an answer.
“One, because I’m stubborn,” she said. “Two, I’m a completist. I finish what I start. And three, I made a commitment. I agreed to be a puppy raiser.”
The story made national news, and the school board finally relented.
The dog attended all of Cohen’s classes, minus chemistry and dance. At home, Cohen would brush the pup’s teeth, clean her ears and comb her fur every night.
“I know what it’s like to be a parent,” she said. “It’s like taking care of a little kid. I would wake up in the middle of the night because I heard a change in her breathing.”
On Saturday, at a ceremony hosted by the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, Elizabeth officially graduated.
Cohen handed over the leash to Phoenix resident Susan Witten, who has been training with Elizabeth for a few months. She said the dog was very smart.
“A little too smart, sometimes,” she said.
Elizabeth assists Witten by opening and closing doors, opening the refrigerator and pushing elevator buttons.
“We’re still working on retrieving,” she said.