Spann Cordle of Summerville, Georgia loves his job. Spann works at Walmart, one of the most well known companies in the U.S., and is educating them and everyone else about people with disabilities and service dogs.

Spann has cerebral palsy, a condition he was diagnosed with at birth as a result of being born prematurely. It's caused by damage to the cerebrum before, during or shortly after birth and results in loss of or limited movement.

"While I face many challenges in life due to my condition, I have found that it provides a completely different outlook on life," said Spann. "This being said, I try to use my condition in order to help others with their own disabilities."

Not knowing anything about service dogs, Spann was intrigued when he saw a segment about them on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet.

"As I watched, I began to think about how great it would be to have a service animal," said Spann. "That night, I started my research and e-mailed everyone I could, trying to obtain information."

Almost a year after watching that first TV segment, Spann's endless research and e-mails finally got him the response he was looking for. He received an e-mail from Susan Bass, the director of Canine Specialty Training in Independence, Missouri. She had heard through the grapevine that Spann was looking for a service animal and asked if he was willing to come to Missouri and meet with her and her chief trainer.

"When I met Ms. Bass and her chief trainer, Jennifer Simmons, I realized from the onset that these ladies knew their stuff," Spann said. "As we talked in our initial meeting they asked questions like what I would need the dog to do for me, how severe was my cerebral palsy and what was my honest physical condition like each day? They were tough questions, but in order to match a dog with me, these were questions they had to have answered."

Spann and Finn Canine Specialty Training is a private company, so the waiting list for animals is short, but potential owners pay a hefty price of about $5,000.

When Susan found a potential match, Spann flew to Missouri to meet Finn, a two-year-old Labrador Retriever. The pair worked together for a solid week in 12 inches of snow and subfreezing temperatures and had to take a public access test in order to prove they could work together in public.

"Finn already knew what to do. I was the slow one," said Spann. "But we passed, and five years ago, on the twelfth of December, Finn and I flew home."

Although Spann said the initial bonding period takes about six weeks, the bond created is truly incredible.

"Before I got Finn each of us completed a personality profile," said Spann. "There is one tenth of a percent difference between Finn's personality and mine, and after five years together, he knows me better than I know myself."

In 2009, Finn received a bronze collar medallion for honorable mention at the American Kennel Club Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). To qualify, a dog must either be AKC registered or an AKC recognized breed and have performed an exemplary act, whether large or seemingly small, that has significantly benefited a community or individual.

Finn only eats Exclusive® Chicken & Rice Formula Reduced Fat Adult Dog Food, which Spann gets at Lavender Mountain Hardware in Armuchee, Georgia.

"Exclusive® Dog Food was recommended by Finn's trainer because it has no fillers or by-products," Spann said. "And because Finn's main exercise is only on days we are off, the lower fat is good for him."

Finn is trained as a "mobility" service animal, which means he can pull Spann's manual wheelchair by wearing a harness under his vest that allows Spann to help guide his movements.

"This helps save wear and tear on my joints, not to mention gets me places a lot faster," Spann said.

Finn knows more than 80 commands, which come in handy at home and at work. Finn turns lights on and off, opens and closes doors, takes clothes out of the washer and puts them in the dryer and even gets them out of the dryer, puts them in a basket and pulls it where Spann needs.

Spann began working as a greeter at Walmart a few months before getting Finn and was quickly promoted to a sales associate in the electronics department. Finn helps Spann by picking up dropped items, opening doors and even pushes the button on the Coke machine when Spann goes on break. Together, the pair helps customers get what they need.

"Reactions differ but are always amazing!" said Spann about how people react when they see Finn and him working together. "Children are the best, wide eyes, open mouths and questioning mama as to 'Why is that dog in the store?' Everyone young and old wants to pet Finn, though they're not supposed to, and all remark on how beautiful he is."

In 2008, Spann went to Walmart's annual shareholders meeting where he was able to network with management and begin his quest to make sure Walmart is disability-friendly and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He's had multiple speaking engagements through Walmart and in his community, educating others about people with disabilities and how service dogs can help. Last year, he was named Careers and the Disabled Employee of the Year and was featured in Walmart World Magazine. Spann and Finn's photo is currently featured in Walmart's training materials, and they appear in a promotional video for Walmart affiliate, Sam's Club.

"I like helping people find what they want and need and explaining things and answering questions they might have," Spann said. "Also, I truly love the idea of traveling to help educate others on service animal access and compliance, speaking to groups and showing that even disabled people can make a difference. Walmart has given me this opportunity. In Kansas City in February 2009 and in Boston in May of 2010 to crowds of 3,000 to a few hundred or a handful of people—it doesn't matter how many as long as we get our word out."

Spann's ultimate goal is to move from the sales floor to corporate, either as a spokesperson on ADA for Walmart or in disability outreach. He hopes to reach both those that have disabilities as well as those who don't.

"I want to show others that you can get out there in the workforce and not be dependent on state or federal agencies. Service animals give independence and self worth back to the individual," Spann said. "If you focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't and you want something bad enough it can be achieved."

To learn more about Spann and Finn visit www.spannsworld.com or e-mail Spann at spannservicedog@windstream.net.

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PET TIPS | Tag Talk: Understanding Your Pet's Food Label

Many people are putting a bigger emphasis on eating healthy and look at the labels on the food they eat. Why not do it for your pets?

Pet food labels are monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a national level, and some states have additional regulations, often those established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The FDA requires that labels on all pet food products contain proper identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer's name and address, nutrient guarantees and proper listing of ingredients. The following paragraphs will help you understand what they mean.

The net quantity statement tells you how much product by weight is actually in each container, not the size of the bag.

Pet food ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight and are referred to by their common name. The first ingredient should be a source of protein such as chicken, beef, turkey, or salmon. Many of the ingredients with chemical-sounding names are actually vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients.

Meat: flesh from animals including chicken, cattle, turkey, etc.
Meat by-products: non-rendered clean animal parts, other than meat. This may include lungs, livers, kidneys, brain, spleen, blood, bones and stomachs and intestines emptied of their contents. It cannot include hair, horns, teeth or hooves.
Animal By-Product Meal: the rendered product from animal tissues, exclusive of any added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumens contents. It shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for by this definition.
Meat meal: the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents or added extraneous materials. It shall not contain more than 12% pepsin-indigestible residue.
Poultry by-product meal: non-rendered, ground, clean parts of slaughtered chickens and turkeys, not including flesh. This may include necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. This will not include feathers.
Poultry by products: non-rendered clean parts of carcasses including heads, feet and viscera free from fecal content and foreign matter.
Poultry meal: the dry, rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from parts of the whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.
Beef tallow: fat derived from beef.
Ground corn: the whole kernel of corn, can be ground or chopped.
Corn gluten meal: after corn syrup or starch is manufactured, this is the high-protein by-product remaining after the removal of the bran, germ and starch.
Tocopherols: a preservative comprised of many forms of vitamin E.
Brewers Rice: Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.
Brown Rice: Brown rice is the unpolished rice with its bran layer intact.
Soybean Meal: Soybean meal is a high-protein by-product of the removal of soybean oil from whole soybeans.
BHA: BHA is butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative.
Yucca shidigera extract: A plant extract that has been shown to help reduce foul odors and increase animal performance by lowering ruminal, intestinal and blood ammonia levels.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Enterococcus faecium: dried microorganisms commonly found in the digestive tract that help support a pet's digestive health.
Dried Trichoderma longibrachiatum: A digestive enzyme derived from yeast extracts, this ingredient helps promote healthy digestion.

All companies are required to put a guarantee of the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. Crude refers to the method of testing, not the quality of the nutrients.

The nutritional adequacy statement is one of the most important parts of a pet food label. To be considered a "compete and balanced" pet food, like all of PMI Nutrition® products—Infinia®, Exclusive® and Red Flannel® pet foods—it must be substantiated by one of two ways.

The product is formulated to meet nutritional levels established by the AAFCO The product is tested using AAFCO feeding trial protocols and has been found to provide proper nutrition.

The nutritional adequacy statement also says which stage of life the food is suitable for. Products listed for all life stages, such as Infinia® Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe and Infinia® Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe, meet more stringent nutritional needs for growth and production.

Feeding directions are rough guidelines. Depending on your dog's breed, temperament, environment and lifestyle, the amount needed may vary. Pregnant or nursing dogs may require two to three times the recommended amount to maintain ideal body conditions.

Rendering is the process by which fats and lean-tissue proteins are separated under high temperatures, producing two end products — fat and dry meat meal.

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GET TO KNOW | Red Flannel® Active Formula

Red Flannel® Active Formula is specially designed to provide balanced energy for your highly active dogs. It delivers 100 percent complete and balanced nutrition to your dog at any stage of its life. All Red Flannel® formulas are researched by nutrition professionals and veterinarians, so not only do they meet industry standards, but they often exceed them. We know that your pet is more than just a dog. He or she is your companion and part of the family, so Red Flannel® Prime Formula provides your pet with the wholesome, high energy diet he or she deserves and needs, to live a long, happy life.

Red Flannel® formulas are made with high quality chicken protein from chicken by-product meal to give your dog the essential building blocks it needs for muscle growth with a taste it's sure to love.

  • Provides prolonged energy for strength and endurance
  • Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids for a healthy skin and coat and immune system support
  • Contains natural sources of glucosamine for strong bones and healthy joints
  • Naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols and vitamin E

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