Keegan & Dillon

Bob Hallinen

Keegan Halsey, 16, has had a rough time of things for as long as he can remember. He just never felt right anywhere, not even in his own house.

"I would barricade myself in my room sometimes," he said, hugging a pillow to his chest.

"A lot when he was younger," said his mother, Peggy. "When he first started, it was for days."

Agoraphobia, extreme social anxieties and other mental-health issues did this to him, made him want to be invisible. Once sorted out, medications helped but they can only do so much. A service dog named Dillon is taking it from there, taking the edge off Keegan's depression and fears, getting him out of the house and slowly helping him engage with the world.

Like most Alaska Assistance Dogs clients, Keegan helped train his own service dog. The two of them passed their public access test in October.

"I was worried a lot that maybe it wouldn't work out because I've done so many things and usually they don't work out -- like school," said Keegan, who's working on his GED. "I tried," he said with a sigh, "I tried."

Besides serving as an emotional anchor, Dillon is teaching Keegan responsibility.

"He has risen to that challenge," his mother said. "I never have to get on him. He lets him in and out to go to the bathroom. He bathes him, feeds him and trains him.

"Dillon has done wonders in that boy's life. Keegan is so much more confident and outgoing and at peace. He's a lot happier, and obviously that makes me happier."

"He teaches me to be calmer," Keegan said. "With him around, stuff just seems easier.

"He's my best friend."