Monday afternoon in Washington, D.C., thousands of guests are slated to follow President Barack Obama down Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade marking his second inauguration.
Rolling among their number will be a Napa woman — and the trained dog who has eased her life even as a 40-year illness has worsened.
Jill Leverton, who will be riding in a wheelchair, and her dog, Jewel, are one of 15 canine-and-patient teams joining the parade to represent Canine Companions for Independence, which trains the animals to assist the disabled in daily life.
The Santa Rosa nonprofit is one of 43 citizens’ groups — of nearly 2,800 that applied — invited to take part in Obama’s second inaugural parade that will run from the Capitol to the White House, with participants passing by the president’s reviewing stand, according to spokeswoman Erin Thompson.
“I was honored,” the 65-year-old Leverton said Wednesday of her invitation. “It’s a great honor for the organization, and something I’ll never get the opportunity to do again.”
A member of the group’s national board, the retired physician will be accompanied in the nation’s capital by Jewel, the 9-year-old Labrador-golden retriever crossbreed who has helped her keep much of her independence even as multiple sclerosis has steadily forced her into a wheelchair.
“Her major job is picking things up for me — anything I drop, from paper clips to keys to my cellphone, she picks it up for me,” said Leverton, who settled in Napa with her husband a decade ago.
Born in England, Leverton moved to the U.S. in 1972, only to notice the first symptoms in her body a year later. It would be nearly 15 years before her condition was diagnosed as MS, a disease in which myelin sheaths surrounding nerve cells become inflamed, causing steadily worsening balance problems, numbness and muscle weakness.
By 2005, her mobility fading, Leverton applied for and received Jewel, which Canine Companions staff trained to obey some 40 commands, including picking up a disabled person’s belongings, opening doors, turning light switches on and off.
In the years since, Leverton has grown to appreciate the freedom granted by her four-legged companion — a freedom she and others will soon display before throngs of Washington parade-goers.
“Asking people ‘Can you do this?’ or ‘Can you do that?’, you get tired of asking people to help you,” she said. “Jewel goes into theaters, planes, restaurants with me, and she’s behaved beautifully to let me take her everywhere.”