You might say fate brought James and Maggie together. Maggie came to live with James Troia at his home in the Sunrise Beach area almost seven years ago. He and wife Mary both fell in love with her. Maggie doesn't have much to say about it — after all she's a Portuguese Mountain Dog — but if she could speak, she'd probably have a lot to say.
"I rescued her, but now she's rescuing me. You can't ask for much more," says James.
When James and Mary lost their Airedale about six years ago, Mary began looking for another dog.
She found Maggie online at a shelter in Bolivar. Mary wasn't sure where Bolivar was but knew they had to go there. Maggie was about to be euthanized because the shelter had too many dogs.
Maggie had come to the shelter with a litter of puppies and a limp. Shelter staff believed that Maggie had run away from a breeder. While her puppies were quickly adopted, she was not.
"She was pretty ugly when I got her. She limped, and her hair was all grown out and tangled. She was a mess, but had heart like you wouldn't believe," says James.
A trip to the veterinarian revealed she had suffered a broken hip at some point. But with some TLC from the Troias and regular visits to a groomer, Maggie cleaned up and became part of the family.
Mary passed away in 2011, and James and Maggie moved off the lake to a new home in Laurie. About nine months ago, James, now 69, started having problems falling. A doctor's visit revealed nerve damage in his back.
The problem put a halt to one of James' favorite activities.
"I love to hike, but I couldn't do it anymore. So I started looking for service dogs in Kansas City and St. Louis," he says.
Finally, he came across a trainer, Susan Bass in Kansas City, who agreed to train Maggie to become a service dog to help James when he falls.
Bass ended up training both James and Maggie as they went through a shorter but more intensive training to make less trips up to the city from the lake. James then brought her back home to Laurie, and they would work together in the park on the 70 skills Maggie had to learn.
Within a couple of months, Maggie knew everything, says James, but she flunked her first test, missing just one of 70 skills — laying down on command.
Soon after, though, she passed her service dog test and became a certified mobility dog about three months ago.
Now, James is able to hike again. He's a regular on the trails at Ha Ha Tonka.
Page 2 of 2 - When he falls, Maggie is over within a minute to help him get back on his feet. She stands in front of him and allow James to put his hands on her hips and forepaws to push himself off the ground so he can get to his knees.
Now Maggie is working on an extra skill — retrieving James' cane.
"I think God has a plan for us all. When my wife bought Maggie, I think He knew I would need her down the road. That's pretty smart," says James.