Talking (Service) Dog with Fiona Gilbert


Back in 2003, Fiona Gilbert – a biohacker and movement therapist – who lives in the Bay Area, was diagnosed with a debilitating degenerative neurological disorder. At the time she was a busy, motivated PhD student; The prospect of such dramatic physical changes – which included weakness, seizures and ultimately life in a wheelchair – made her think seriously about euthanasia, which is legal in her native Australia.

Fortunately, she discovered the Animal Farm Foundation, a New York-based organization that trains shelter pit bulls to be service dogs. Thanks to AFF, she was matched with Koda, who had been trained to offer her a unique service: as a support and mobility support dog.

Lee Harrington: Judging from its backstory, Kodas had an amazing kismet. A beloved pet in a family with many children who was abandoned because the landlord didn’t want a pit bull around their cows, adopted from a Craigslist publication by a known animal abuser. Fortunately, an accomplished animal control officer got wind of this and safely took Koda to a local animal shelter. There he was discovered by AFF, who is always on the lookout for pit bulls with service dog potential. Within a year, Koda was a fully trained service dog.
Fiona Gilbert: It seems like such an unlikely story for a dog like him. People see him and their first reaction is to gasp. What they don’t get is how amazing he is.

LH: What impressed you about Koda when you first met him two years ago?
FG: I remember seeing him – his eyes. And want this dog.

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