Tabitha Bell, 18, of Sandy, Utah, a senior at Waterford School, has raised more than $115,000 through her nonprofit, “Pawsitive Pawsibilities,” to provide nine service dogs to people who otherwise could not afford one. Born severely premature in Siberia, Tabitha was adopted by her parents when she was a baby and later diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. As her ability to walk independently declined, she got a German Shepherd to help her with mobility and balance. She and Sunny became a cohesive team, and with him by her side, Tabitha was able to walk, step on and off curbs and even climb steps. During a conversation with her surgeon, Tabitha learned that many of his patients wanted a service dog but couldn’t afford one. “An idea sprang into my heart and head and I pledged to raise money to buy a dog for at least one more person like me,” she said.
Tabitha and a friend incorporated Pawsitive Pawsibilities, created a website, and launched a class competition at school to raise money. Subsequently, they funded their venture by selling bracelets, developing a coloring book about service animals, organizing a 5K event and a benefit concert, and opening a GoFundMe account. To expand her efforts, Tabitha has recruited team members at other high schools, and developed a “Puppy Paws” program to help younger children raise money for the cause with bake sales and lemonade stands. Tabitha also promotes her mission by speaking at camps, schools, events, and civic-group gatherings. Since its inception, her organization has selected, purchased, and trained nine dogs that have changed the lives of several young people with debilitating illnesses, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, a teenage gunshot victim and young woman with diabetes.