Getting My Service Dog
Getting a service dog is a big decision. There is a lot of thought and logistics that go into making such a large lifestyle change but for me this was worth it. First, I want to address why I came to the conclusion this was right for me and my lifestyle. Then, I’m going to talk about the process and getting accepted into a program. Finally, I’m going to talk about meeting my dog and starting to train. As of right now, my dog hasn’t moved in yet. It is going to happen this week and I couldn’t be more excited. I will give a more in depth review about having the dog after he’s been with me for a while. As always, if you have questions feel free to ask in the comments or on Instagram.
Why do I want a service dog? This is a loaded question. In the spring, I wasn’t able to walk by myself. I was reliant on family members to hold on to me while getting around. This was due to severe dizziness from my dysautonomia, that affected my gait and the way I walked. I had no balance and every step I took was a challenge. I wanted to find independence again. For me, having something to tether me to the ground and help me identify where I was in space was huge. I’m only twenty and using a walker, although very reasonable in my situation was a challenge. It’s an ego thing. I’m not proud of it but I struggle to use a walker because I feel like I should be able to walk on my own. This has gotten me into a lot of dangerous situations. Suddenly, I’m alone and there’s no one around to help and I can’t walk straight. The chances I’d pass out and lose consciousness are small. The amount of times I’ve been stuck somewhere with my heart beating improperly and having an inability to walk is too big to count.
As I endured physical therapy, my gait and my ability to walk on my own improved rapidly. It is night and day compared to how it was. That being said, when I start to struggle with dizziness, it’s my gait and ability to balance that is first to go. There’s no question of how I’m feeling because it tends to be pretty blatant. I don’t always know when these attacks are going to happen. It’s incredibly difficult to plan for. That’s where the dog comes in. My dog, Crush, has a hard handle. I can lean on him for minor support and he allows me to be able to get around even if i’m struggling. I can walk completely normal on a good day. Bringing a walker along would only hinder me. Crush is a plan for when I get stuck somewhere with the inability to walk straight or if i’m having a more difficult day. He’s there to help me. He’s also trained in tasks that help raise my blood pressure when it’s dropping. Another thing that causes my severe dizziness. Crush can pick stuff up, so i’m not leaning down and changing my posture (which can drop my blood pressure). Another added bonus with Crush, he can alert me to when I start itching, a precursor to an allergy attack. This allows me to take medication before things escalate to a dangerous state.
Before my illness, I had an active lifestyle. I was very independent and wanted to explore everything the world had to offer. Being sick has made my world a lot smaller. Finding a safe way for me to get around and be able to get back to exploring was the biggest reason I wanted a service dog. I’m not safe on my own, I need people to know where I’m going constantly. Crush, can be trained to call 911 in an emergent situation. He allows me to go out, be on my own, and be twenty again. I can’t explain what that feels like. It’s truly like having a part of my soul become reintact. Of course, Crush will not take away my symptoms. I will still struggle like I do now. Crush is like having a safety net there to catch you, quite literally if I fall, he can catch me.
When I started looking for a service dog, I thought about self training. Then, I thought about hiring a professional trainer. This is an expensive process. A well trained service dog is often valued at $20,000-$30,000. Finding a dog requires temperment testing and breeders. Even then a dog can wash out and you are left with the dog you own. I mean that in the nicest way, who doesn’t love a dog. Still, then you’re starting the process again and getting another dog. This wasn’t feasible for me and my family. I was trying to go back to school, my mom works full-time, and there was a lot of room for error. After a lot of research, I found a non-profit program that matches service dogs with disabled individuals at no cost. I applied to two different programs. I got moved along in both programs but I landed with Can Do Canines. They accepted me into the program and that’s when the process truly started. Now, Can do Canines has extensive paperwork for their admission process. I provided two character references. My doctor had to provide recommendation, as well as my therapist. After this, I had to fill out paperwork on why I wanted the dog and what I thought it would do for me. Next, I got interviewed at my home, once again going through my disability and why I thought a dog would help. After getting accepted, I went to three different class sessions. One for orientation to the program, one about contracts and one about care for myself and the dog. This is all before I got matched with my dog. Once I got matched with Crush, we started individual training. Going out to the mall or grocery store, spending time getting to know each other and bonding. Within several sessions of that, I will need to pass the ADI service dog handler test. Once I pass, Crush will move home with me. After Crush moves in, there’s still training for several weeks. Can do Canines stresses that they’re always there for you. No matter what stage of the process you are in, so in a year if Crush needs some help or a new task, they’ll help me. This is huge. Finding a program like this is rare and an extreme blessing. I can’t stress enough what a difference Can do Canines has made in my life.
Meeting Crush was an experience like no other. I had tried out a harness with him, not knowing he was my match and I fell in love. He leaned against me and let me stroke his head while having a conversation. The sweetest dog, kind, loving, and well behaved. On Thanksgiving 2019, I got the email that my match was ready to train. I was over the moon excited. I was set to meet my dog (who remained a secret) the following Monday. I sat anxiously going through contracts until they finally told me it was Crush. I felt this massive wave of relief, I already knew I loved him. That first day we got to know each other. We worked on very simple commands of what I expected of him. He showed off with his ability to do a handstand on the wall, a true shock to me. It was a magical experience. Next, we went to the mall together. Once in harness, Crush is ready to work. While we walk together he checks in with my dutifully. He raises his head and looks at me as if he’s saying “How you doing mom?” Now, dogs are still dogs. Crush will make mistakes and so will I. It’s a process of trial and error. We need to find our stride together and what works for us as a team. I have no doubt that both of us are ready to dedicate our lives to each other. As crazy as that sounds, he’s looking out for my safety and I’m looking out for his. We are a team and we’re in this together.
Getting a service dog is a significant step. It’s not right for everyone and it’s not realistic for everyone. I wanted to keep up with a somewhat active lifestyle, that puts me into situations where I’m often unsafe. Crush can help me maintain the life I want and provide a safety that not even my walker can provide. Going through Can do Canines was my best option. It provided me with trainers who wanted to help find a dog to fit my specific needs. This also gave me freedom to continue focusing on my care while Crush was trained behind the scenes. I needed support from people who knew what they were doing and Can do Canines fit that really well. So far this process has been amazing and I can’t wait till Crush moves in.