With two of her own at home, 13-year-old Selena from Mililani has always loved dogs. They have been a source of comfort throughout her lifelong battle with a critical heart condition and multiple heart surgeries. It wasn’t until she read War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love by Rebecca Frankel, though, that Selena started dreaming of translating her love of dogs into a future career as a service dog trainer.
“I just knew I had a connection with dogs,” explained Selena. “I figured why not take it to help everyone else. I wanted to change the world in a way…why not use my passion for dogs?”
When wish granters Christine and Victoria met Selena, they were immediately taken by her heart. “She really wants to give back and serve the community, and she just has a love for animals,” said Christine.
She and Victoria got to work planning Selena’s wish, first enlisting the help of the K-9 unit at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) unit, which spent two months collaborating with Make-A-Wish Hawaii to plan the perfect wish reveal.
“When Make-A-Wish reached out to us to help bring Selena’s dream a reality, we as a team were beyond excited to be a part of this event,” said JBPHH military working dog trainers Staff Sgt. Justin Leon Guerrero and Staff Sgt. Terry Pasko in a joint statement. “We participate in numerous activities within the community and throughout the military, but nothing quite as personal and heartwarming as this wish reveal for Selena.”
Under the ruse of an open house demonstration, Selena arrived at the K-9 facility with her family to receive a tour of the kennels. She watched a bite demonstration and a simulated police chase, practiced giving commands to the dogs, and participated in a detection demonstration, during which one of the dogs identified a suitcase of interest. Inside the suitcase, Selena found dog toys, treats, and, finally, a blue package containing an itinerary for her upcoming wish. As realization set in, Selena turned to find her family, Make-A-Wish ohana, and the K-9 unit holding wish signs and cheering for her.
“I turned around and I could see tears in my dad’s eyes,” she said, holding back tears of her own at the memory. “He was really proud of me that I made it this far.”
Said wish mom Chandra, “Selena was excited and overwhelmed with joy.”
Afterward, Selena spent more time interacting with the K-9 unit and asking them questions. As the unit’s first experience with Make-A-Wish, all the servicemen and women involved were visibly moved. Though they give a number of demonstrations each year, this one was particularly special.
“K-9 trainers and handlers have a small community and we lean on each other for support. We want to encourage Selena to never give up on her dreams and JBPHH K9 is there to help support her any way we can,” said Guerrero and Pasko.
Soon, it was time for Selena’s wish to come true. She and her family traveled all the way to Santa Rosa, California to visit Canine Companions for Independence, an agency that provides expertly trained assistance dogs to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities free of charge.
Selena’s wish was also a first for Canine Companions. “As far as I know, we’ve never had a request like this,” Canine Companions Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator Michelle Williams told the Press Democrat. The team spent countless hours excitedly planning a comprehensive assistance dog training experience for Selena.
She learned all about training techniques, interacted with puppies and dogs in professional training, and participated in question and answer sessions with Canine Companions instructors and graduates.
“It was a great time for us all to bond after the long road we had been down,” said Chandra.
Selena left Canine Companions full of hope, indicating she might even like to return as a certified instructor someday.
Reflecting on her wish experience and all the community supporters near and far who brought her wish to life, Selena said, “It really touched me to see how much you care.”
Make-A-Wish Hawaii would like to thank the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam K-9 Unit and Canine Companions for Independence for giving Selena this life-changing experience.