Service dog gets owner through grad school, so the university gives him his own degree

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Brittany Hawley and her service dog GRIFFIN (spelled in all caps) both had something to celebrate during the 2018-2019 academic year – they had each been awarded degrees from Clarkson University in New York City.

Hawley, a member of the class of 2019, earned a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy.

GRIFFIN’s honorary degree was conferred in a special recognition ceremony at the end of 2018.

“GRIFFIN has been awarded an honorary diploma for his extraordinary contributions to student success,” the university said.


The Board of Trustees agreed to the unconventional degree conferral based on the 4-year-old Golden Retriever’s “extraordinary effort, steadfast commitment, and diligent dedication to the wellbeing and student success of his owner Brittany.”



“The two have pursued 100% together a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy attending all the same classes, lectures, faculty appointments, group study sessions, social activities, research projects, and clinical experiences, fully making Griffin an equal member of the Clarkson Golden Knights family,” the school said in their press release.

Hawley is mostly confined to a wheelchair after having been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) at the age of 16.

The syndrome causes a disorder called dystonia, in which a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably and cause affected body parts to twist involuntarily. Hawley’s legs are affected and she is often in severe pain.

She was approved for a service dog by the organization paws4people on the very same day she was told she earned an interview at Clarkson.

“We moved to New York together, we started school together and we finished together,” Hawley told CBS News.



GRIFFIN acts as a mobility assistant, retrieving items, opening doors, turning on lights, and getting help if Hawley happens to fall.

The recent grad said she couldn’t have made it through her Master’s degree without the help of her service dog.

“I felt more independent, I was more social, I felt more outgoing with him,” she said. “I pushed from day one when I graduate, I want GRIFFIN to graduate with me.”
The school approved her request in October of 2018.

Hawley’s next task was to complete the board exam to become a registered and licensed occupational therapist in her home state of North Carolina, where she plans to work with military personnel and veterans.

And GRIFFIN will always be with her.

“Whenever I get a job, he will be with me every single day,” Hawley said.

Before graduation, Hawley and GRIFFIN had completed an internship at Fort Bragg in which they helped soldiers with mobility issues.

“My patients would say, ‘My therapist today is Brittany and Griffin,’” she told the Washington Post.
Hawley announced on Instagram that she passed the boards in February 2019, bringing her one step closer to her dream career.

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