When visitors come to our office, they may be greeted by an unusual sight. After all, it is not every day that you run into a 100 lb., pure-breed Rottweiler in a law office. She is a lot of dog, but not in the way that most people think.
A trained service dog, Natalie “Natty” Miller often comes to the office to assist her owner, MMCG Managing Partner Rhonda Miller, with a disability caused by a never-healed shoulder injury. When not at home taking care of the Miller family, Natty sleeps the day away at Rhonda’s feet under her desk, yet is always ready to help with tasks like picking things up and opening doors. She has also been known to lick an occasional visitor as her way of saying hello. Clients say that just having Natty around provides a sense of calm, protection, and relief.
Any pet owner will attest to how much animals enrich the lives of their owners. For Rhonda, having Natalie, and before her Samantha, set the course of her legal career. In 1997, Rhonda attended a Canine Support Team (CST) graduation. Amazed at the ways dogs could be taught to help their owners, she eagerly agreed to get involved when asked by the founder of the charity.
Working with CST opened Rhonda’s eyes to the ways in which society takes advantage of people who can’t completely take care of themselves. She also saw firsthand how service dogs can return a sense of independence to their disabled owners. This empathy for the disabled, together with her experience in the courtroom fighting battles on behalf of varied clients, made Rhonda realize that as an attorney, she could have great impact by helping people protect themselves and their family. But working for a large law firm, representing Fortune 500 firms, was not the place to do it. So she founded her own firm, The Law Offices of Rhonda A. Miller, where she could work for clients who had “right” on their side.
While building her new practice, Rhonda continued to work with CST, serving on its board of directors, writing articles for its newsletter, and acting as pro bono general counsel. In these roles, she got to know many service dog owners, one of whom had a Rottweiler. So convinced that the intelligence and sensitivity common in Rottweilers made them the ideal service dog, this dog owner would only consider another Rott after the death of his first one. Rhonda, too, was sold on the breed, and when she and her husband got their first dog – Samantha – of course they chose a Rottweiler.
Although never formally trained, Samantha picked up on some of the tasks of a service dog simply by watching other dogs when the Millers attended CST events. Before they knew it, Samantha was bringing them the remote and picking up dropped items. This came in handy after the birth of their first child!
Sadly, Samantha died in 2009. Although not sure they were ready to replace her right away, when the opportunity arose to adopt Natalie, a 5-month-old pure-breed Rottweiler, the Millers knew they had to at least check her out. After taking her home for a week-long trial, the Millers were smitten with Natty, and Natty with them. She was – and continues to be – a warm, cuddly dog. Even now, at 100 lbs, she believes she is a lap dog and loves to be touching people. But she is more than just another cuddly dog.
Natalie proved to be a quick study when the Millers hired a local trainer to help with CST’s guidance so she could help Rhonda with her disability. Natty has learned to pick things up, open doors, and help Rhonda take off her coat. She also senses when Rhonda may not be feeling well, pulling her toward the door if they are out and about together. She often serves as a visual aid when Rhonda presents seminars on the use of service animals for the disabled.
Natalie loves going to work with Rhonda, and has become a part of the firm. And, as you can imagine, Rhonda loves having her there. She is a big, black-and-brown reminder of how important Rhonda’s work is to her clients.