Friday, February 17, 2012

A Service Dog Celebration

My service dog is on the couch next to me. Honey went to the groomer yesterday and came back soft and fluffy. She is nine now. We’ve been together since she was eight weeks old.

I didn’t realize I was getting a service dog puppy. I honestly thought I was getting a new pet. Until Honey decided she wanted to be something more.

I was at my desk writing in my journal. My four-month-old puppy was under the table trying to yank off my socks. I accidentally dropped my pen on the floor, right in front of Honey. I thought for sure she was going to destroy it, like she did the roll of paper towels earlier in the day. Imagining Bic bits and ink everywhere I panicked and reached down for my pen. Of course Honey grabbed the pen before I did, but then she did the most unlikely thing imaginable. Instead of running off to the sofa with her prize, Honey picked up the pen and gently put it in my hand.

I sat back with my pen, aware that something magical had just happened. If Honey could retrieve a dropped pen without any training at all, what could she be trained to do? It was that moment when Honey went from being my pet to being my service dog. We trained together for the next year and a half. Then Honey stepped into her new role as my service dog.

Honey is trained to do lots of things. She can...

Grab a tug on the cupboard door

Yank open the door

Retrieve a Pepsi

Bring it to me anywhere in the house

Return to the kitchen and shut the door

Honey can pick up a dropped pencil, or a credit card, dollar bill, dime or a paperclip, and hand it to me. She has saved me from walking into traffic when MG suddenly gave me double vision. I couldn’t tell a moving car from a parked car. Honey got in front of my powerchair and refused to move out of the way until the car passed.

When too much chemotherapy gave me severe chemo brain, I got lost a few blocks from my house. I looked around and suddenly didn’t recognize the houses. I didn’t recognize the street. On one level I knew I was in my hometown and within walking distance from my house. Except I couldn’t remember how to get home. Chemotherapy evaporated the file in my brain. I was terrified and  panicky. Then I looked down at the dog and told her, “Find home.” I’d never trained Honey to take me home, but I followed her down the street. We stopped at corners and turned left and right. The dog took me safely home when I couldn’t do it myself.

How embarrassing, how humiliating would it have been to call someone and admit I was lost eight blocks from home? My dog allows me to have dignity and independence. She picks up the same dropped dollar 11 times in a row without ever saying, "Can't you even hold on for two seconds?" Honey helps without shaming. I love her for that.

Thanks to my new medications my myasthenia gravis is finally quiet. Instead of using a wheelchair I can walk more. I can do more things every day. What I can’t do is always recognize low blood sugar. Fortunately Honey is learning to recognize it for me.

She’s nine, but not too old to learn new tricks. Twice now Honey has climbed up beside me on the bed and pawed at me. I didn’t know what she was signaling. Now I realize I’m going low in my sleep and she just woke me up. Next time she does that I’m drinking some juice, and giving Honey a treat. Watching her learn new skills never stops bringing me joy. She loves learning more than I enjoy teaching.

Sitting here on the sofa beside my dog I am aware how blessed I am to be partnered with Honey. I only hope she feels as blessed to be partnered with me.

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