Amy & IBM’s Karma

Amy-Litzinger-Karma-Team-TrAmy Litzinger is a college student at Southwestern University in Georgetown on a scholarship given to a student who plans to pursue a career in public service. In her essay applying for the scholarship, Litzinger detailed how her career path has been shaped by the fact that she was born with quadriplegia. She has been an active advocate for people living with disabilities since the 9th grade, when she helped her Girl Scout troop organize an ability awareness fair that was attended by 2,000 children. That same year, she testified before the Texas Legislature against a budget proposal that would have cut services to 75,000 persons with disabilities.

Amy is a board member of the Texas Youth Leadership Forum and is one of 12 youths from across the country selected for the National Council on Disability Youth Advisory Committee, which advises Congress on issues related to persons with disabilities. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also appointed her to the Texas Children’s Policy Council and in July 2005, she helped former President George H.W. Bush give out awards at an event at the Kennedy Center marking the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She has organized summer conferences to train youth in how to be leaders and has taught workshops to help teens with disabilities learn how to testify before their state legislatures.  Last summer she served as an intern with Texas Rep. Mark Strama’s “Campaign Academy.”

We matched Amy with “IBM’s Karma”, a gentle female yellow Lab we adopted from Mesquite Animal Control through the Gifted Animal Placement program.  They attended our five day Team Training class at our training center in February.  After that, we moved Karma into Amy’s dorm and began 13 weeks of In-home training.  THSD Senior Trainer Susan Ramsbottom worked with Amy weekly in her dorm, on campus and eventually in a variety of public places.

Amy and Karma progressed well in both their service behavior training and their public work.  We certified them at the end of June, so they are our most recent graduate Service Dog team.

Over $12,000 in contributions from the IBM  2007 Employee Charitable Contributions Campaign, a $3,000 grant from the Birchall Foundation and a donation from Amy’s brother and sister-in-law Michael and Susan White sponsored Amy and Karma’s training.

Sr. Trainer Susan Ramsbottom helps Amy reward Karma for a sit and eye contact with a food treat

Sr. Trainer Susan Ramsbottom helps Amy reward Karma for a sit and eye contact with a food treat


Amy wrote this letter about her experiences with Karma:

Dear Employees of IBM, the Birchall Foundation and Michael and Susan White,

I am so appreciative of your financial contributions towards the training of my service dog, Karma.  I received her in January 2008, and we have just completed our official team training, obtaining our certification.  Training will remain an ongoing process, but we are officially ready for anything!

A little about me.  Though I am from Austin, I am a college student at Southwestern University in Georgetown.  Everyone in my school loves seeing Karma help me all over campus, including in class.  They all own my dog vicariously because they are not allowed to bring their own pets to school.

On campus, Karma helps me to rise up out of bed, takes my jacket off with her mouth, and fetches things I drop such as cell phones, assignments, credit cards and student IDs.  She also opens and closes doors for me all over campus, because very few doors here are automatic.   I have a tiny job in the writing center helping students to improve their papers, and together we help them through their panic.

Sr. Trainer Shahar Efrima coaches Amy on having Karma on tugging the door open

Sr. Trainer Shahar Efrima coaches Amy on having Karma on tugging the door open

During training, Karma and I visited every building on my campus, plus my church, the Alamo Drafthouse, a hearing room in the Capitol when I testified, big stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, lots of restaurants like Serrano’s, Mesa Rosa, McCallister’s Deli, Steak and Shake, Jim’s, Macaroni Grill, Shanghai Express, plus the Ruta Maya Coffee House poetry slam, and of course the Mighty Texas Dog Walk.

Once, Karma was in a play with me on our campus, called Body Dialogues, and after my soliloquy about how that, in a way, she is my hands for me, I would have her demonstrate something and everyone would applaud. Once during rehearsal, we were supposed to read others’ comments about our piece, all submitted on index cards.  I dropped thirty cards. Karma, without instruction, began picking them up!  My hands cannot hold 30 cards, so I just kept dropping them and she kept helping me, until the cards were so wet that they were unreadable and unusable, and Karma was exhausted!

Thank you again for making my life easier (and fun) by giving me Karma to help me.

Amy Litzinger