The Zeego Tales: From Florida to Louisiana

Matt Lafleur avatar

by Matt Lafleur |

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“The Zeego Tales” track the wonders of my new life with my service dog, Zeego.

Zeego mumbles in his sleep.

As I type this, he is on the floor beside my computer desk, woofing quietly and moving his legs and paws slightly.

I grin, my eyes fixed on him for perhaps too long, when I probably should get back to working on my computer.

It’s been four weeks since I returned home with my service dog, the white Labrador and golden retriever mix with the unique name. I can admit that, because of him, every area of my life has improved. Well, maybe except for my at-work productivity and that of my office mates, who give him googly eyes every chance they get. Just don’t tell my boss.

I sit here gazing lovingly at him, wondering about his dreams. It’s amazing to me that this medium-size dog has so much heart. He builds community, connecting those who encounter him in a profound way. Without him, those people never would have met, and we are the better for having these relationships. 

Zeego, oblivious to this, sighs and rolls over. 


Jack and Jay, family members of one of Zeego’s puppy raisers from San Antonio, Florida, were driving through Louisiana, so they asked if they could stop by to see the pup and me. Jay’s mom, Jeanie, who didn’t make the trip, serves as a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. Jay told me that Zeego, with his laid-back and all-business attitude, was the sweetest dog the family had trained.

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Born in California of parents selected for their temperament and excellent training capacity, Zeego was one of a litter of puppies destined to become Canine Companions assistance dogs. Each has a name that begins with “Z.” At eight weeks old, Zeego was sent to a prison puppy program in Alabama. Check out the story of a neighboring correctional facility’s puppy program here. (Warning: You will cry.)

At about 14 months, Zeego was transferred from Tamara and Anita, parts of that puppy program in Alabama, to Florida. He was co-raised for about six months by Jeanie’s family and Jeanie’s friend Lois in Orlando. Swapping between these two amazing ladies’ homes each month, Zeego learned to socialize, go to concerts and medical appointments, vacation in Colorado, ride in airplanes, go grocery shopping, swim, play fetch, and even behave himself in church.

From there, he went into professional training, or “puppy college,” in Orlando to learn advanced skills. After a few months, I was invited to go train with him for two weeks.

All of those people — the breeders in California, the prison facility in Alabama, Jeanie and Lois and their families, the professional trainers in Orlando, and a Cajun guy with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) in Louisiana — lead very separate lives, yet have a profound connection: Zeego.

Random connections like these are always beautiful to me, even when the nexus is not as cute as my sweet pup. It’s a bittersweet reality that as vile as FA is, the disorder has led me into some precious relationships. From my best friend in Austria to my friend Andrea, who started me on the path to get Zeego, I cherish these people.

Whether random people are connected by the love of a dog or by a debilitating genetic disorder, we are all together. It’s like we are in the same room dancing, though each person hears their own song.


Zeego sighs again, clearly unimpressed with my analogy. I don’t blame him.


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


Linda Feld avatar

Linda Feld

This is extraordinary and meant so much to me. Thank you a thousand times for knowing how to say things we all think but cannot express.

Matt Lafleur avatar

Matt Lafleur

Linda, your words mean so much to me. Thanks so much for reading my column and leaving such thoughtful comments.


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