Service dog walks across graduation stage in honor of late owner

Cletus, a brown-and-white Pit Bull Terrier, was Joshua Kelly’s service dog; the deceased’s father says, “I was one of them that was giving [Pit Bulls] a bad rep, until I met Cletus.”

The commencement ceremony at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, was a time of celebration for the more than 2,000 college graduates and their friends and families in the stands. But for the Kelly family, it was also a time of remembrance, a time to honor the memory of their late son.

Terrell Kelly’s son Joshua was only 38-years-old when he passed away due to complications from epilepsy, an often-debilitating neurological disorder typified by chronic seizures of varying intensity and frequency.

Before his untimely death, Joshua was a hardworking part-time student at Idaho State, a geosciences major looking to earn his Bachelor of Sciences degree at the university.

“This institution has been great for our son, and the geology department and the geosciences became Joshua’s second family,” says Terrell.

Joshua’s condition made his classes much more challenging, says his mother, Lynne Kelly.

“During that last semester he was having a difficult time with his memory because of the seizures, which made it especially hard for math classes. He had brain surgery, nerve stimulations, and he was on medications, but nothing stopped the seizures,” she says.

“He was taking calculus II for the third or fourth time around,” Lynne adds, “but was so excited that he was going to graduate after passing a test early in the semester.”

By Joshua’s side the entire time was his loyal service dog, a brown-and-white American Pit Bull Terrier named Cletus.

“I’ll be honest. I was one of them that was giving [Pit Bulls] a bad rep,” admits Terrell, “until I met Cletus.”

Terrell says his son’s service dog is a faithful, sweet, and wonderful animal that became not only Joshua’s friend and protector, but also a valued member of the entire Kelly clan.

“And he allows our little grandchildren to climb on him, pull his ears, pull his tail. He’s just great,” Terrell tells ABC 8 News of Cletus.

Together, Joshua and Cletus would walk to the bus stop to catch the 6:30 a.m. bus to campus.

“He walked almost two miles every morning and every evening to catch that bus in Idaho Falls, regardless of the weather. His education was very important to him,” Terrell remembers of his son.

Sometimes, that long walk proved difficult. Several times, Cletus had to get help from emergency personnel after Joshua suffered grand mal seizures.

“Many times on the way to the bus Josh would have a seizure, and he’d call and we wouldn’t know exactly where he was but Cletus would bark and cause a commotion until someone would come,” says Terrell. “I don’t know how many times Cletus saved his life.”

Terrell explains his son was only two classes away from achieving his dream when tragedy struck. Joshua went into intensive care in February, ultimately succumbing to his condition February 13.

To pay tribute to Joshua Kelly and to recognize all of the work he put in during his time at Idaho State, the university was glad to posthumously grant Joshua his degree. Terrell was set to walk across the commencement stage and claim his son’s diploma, but he knew someone else very important to Joshua should be by his side — Cletus.

“Cletus went to all those classes, too, so he probably deserves half that degree,” Terrell tells Idaho State.

On Saturday, May 10, Terrell and Cletus represented Joshua at the Idaho State University commencement ceremony, taking the stage to a rousing and emotional applause from the crowd.

“He’ll be here,” Terrell said of his son that day. “He’s here.”

“This is for Josh,” Terrell said as he took his son’s diploma.

As for Cletus, he will always have a loving home with the Kelly family, and he will remain a fixture at Idaho State.

“A lot of people don’t know Josh, but they all know Cletus,” Lynne explains.

The university plans to name the science department kitchen the “Josh Kelly Kitchen,” after Joshua, and its undergraduate study room “Cletus’s Corner,” for Joshua’s devoted companion and service dog.