Sean and Jeeter – Reflections by Ellen O’Neill-Stephens
This web site is dedicated to my son Sean Stephens and his service dog Jeeter who inspired me to begin this program.
Sean has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, speak, or use his hands. He is entirely dependent on others for all his needs. He has spent his life in a wheelchair. Yet Sean has a terrific smile and the most positive attitude of anyone I have ever met. Somehow, he is able to make a connection with most people he meets and has a special talent for bringing out the best in them. I love him dearly.
Sean was extremely popular at the high school he attended, went to the prom with a date, and received a standing ovation from a stadium crowd when he graduated from high school. Although this was a happy milestone for him, we were concerned that he would miss the social opportunities that attending school afforded him.
Then Jeeter, a service dog trained by Canine Companions for Independence, came into his life. Sean and Jeeter are best friends; they sleep together and have a rich social life. The three of us regularly make appearances at middle and high schools to share information with the students about people with disabilities. When the two of them are out in the community, Jeeter draws people to Sean and in short order we enjoy a lively conversation that is punctuated with laughter. When people depart, Jeeter receives a pat and Sean often receives a loving touch on the shoulder.
Jeeter started working with me as a facility dog on the one day a week he could not accompany Sean. Over the years, Sean and Jeeter have participated in many of the local conference presentations I give about using facility dogs. Members of the audience usually thank Sean for sharing his dog with the community. Perhaps one of the most important things people learn from their partnership is that disabled people can make the world a better place too.
Sean Stephens’ beloved service dog Jeeter passed away on January 4, 2011. He was ten years old and during that time he was a wonderful companion for Sean and a source of comfort to the people he met at the courthouse. Even as a young dog he was an old soul, he brought smiles to hundreds of people during his lifetime and left a legacy that has made our legal system a more humane experience.
My son Sean unexpectedly died of pneumonia in a single day on February 9, 2021. He was almost 39 years old. The pain of our loss is mitigated by how his presence in the world created a ripple effect of reducing trauma for thousands of people.