Long-distance friends, service dog meet in-person for first time

Published: Oct. 21, 2016 at 1:44 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2016 at 9:49 PM EDT
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HAMPSTEAD, NC (WECT) - Two teenage girls, with several states separating them, finally met in-person Friday to celebrate the joy of giving back.

Eva Suskind and Gabby Whitehead inspired each other to make a difference months ago.

Whitehead is on the autism spectrum and received her service dog, Walter, in last December. Whitehead's mother said the dog changed her daughter's life and Gabby decided to make sure others can receive the same experience.

"You never knew how happy you were until you got a service dog in your life," said Whitehead. "It's a long process but in the end you've finally found your new best friend."

She started a Pay It Forward campaign in with paws4people, an organization that provides service dogs to people with mental, physical and emotional disabilities.

At the same time, Eva Suskind was looking for a way to give back as part of her Bat Mitzvah preparation. She came across Gabby's campaign and that's where the friendship started.

"She doesn't have autism but she gets it," said Whitehead. "She gets that it's hard for me but since Walter came in my life it's been a lot easier."

Hundreds of emails, texts and video chats later, the girls couldn't wait to meet in person. Hurricane Matthew delayed their plans but Suskind and her mother traveled from Virginia Friday morning to meet Whitehead.

Whitehead said she was nervous to meet her at first. But soon that was replaced with the excited screams of two 13-year-old girls as they embraced in the paws4people parking lot.

Suskind came bearing gifts, a $1,200 donation that she raised from her Bar Mitzvah. She told Whitehead it was all for her fundraiser to give more disabled people access to service dogs.

Whitehead gave her new friend a few pictures she made for the occasion and a necklace with a special message to it. Whitehead's mother said her daughter bought the necklace because of a message attached to it. It read "Love is when you do a small thing in the world that makes a large impact." Whitehead's mother said that message perfectly resembles what Suskind has done for her daughter, whose autism presents social struggles.

"It is next to impossible for Gabby to sustain a friendship, so when this friendship started to emerge and develop with Eva through the Pay It Forward campaign, we quickly saw through the face timing and the video chatting that this was going to stick, this was real," said Lisa Miller, Whitehead's mother.

Suskind and Whitehead only have the weekend together, school is in session, of course. They have a sleepover tonight to catch up on life but there's a high likelihood there will be little sleep.

"We are going to stay up till midnight, party, talk, share our favorite movies, and then torture Walter with love and kisses."

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