Wednesday, December 23, 2015

After Darkness There is Light

My blog has been on hiatus since my service dog, Honey died. My entire life has been on hiatus. Matchbox Twenty has a song called, Unwell. The chorus is:

But I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me
I'm not crazy, I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be, me

I've been unwell since Honey died on July 22. The pause button in my life was set, and I didn't know how to restart. I cried daily, sometimes dozens of times. It's been lonely and empty. I was in a hole. It's hard being in a hole. You can see the light shining down, but it's so far away it doesn't even cast shadows. I withdrew from everything because I didn't need anyone helpfully telling me, "Get over it. Honey was just a dog." 

Honey was my hands. Honey was my arms. Honey unloaded the clothes dryer. She picked up the same dollar off the floor 15 times in a row and never, ever, said, "What is the matter with you. Hang on to it this time." On the day she died, I dropped my glucose meter on the floor. Gasping for air, she stood up, grabbed my meter and put it in my hands. I was going to get it, but Honey got there first and helped me like always. I burst into tears. Such a good dog.

Dogs don't judge. They don't look at someone with a disability and see disability first. They see their friend first. Honey and I formed a bond that can only be described as telepathic. She knew what I needed, and did it before I asked. Honey alerted to myasthenia gravis leg muscle weakness. Before Honey, I used to fall. I was in my head all the time, and didn't notice my legs getting tired, until it was too late. As a puppy, Honey dragged me to a park bench and put her paws on my legs. She forced me to sit. Then she curled up by my feet. I was annoyed, so I stood up. Honey jumped up and pushed me down. Three times in a row, she forced me to sit. The third time, I cued into how tired my legs were. I needed a rest, and Honey knew it before I did. 

When MG blurred my sight, Honey was my eyes. I mistook a moving car for a parked car and stepped into the street. Honey jumped in front of me and would not let me go. Honey saved my life. Our bond meant so much to me. When she died, I fell apart. I didn't need anyone telling me, "She's just a dog." She was my closest friend. Losing her broke my mainspring.
It's been nighttime inside since July. I couldn't face the holiday season with my heart trapped in darkness. Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah, HumanLight, Christmas, Chalica, Kwanza. This time of year celebrates light. I needed light back in my world. I needed a puppy. 

In Honey's first training class, there was a poodle named Pearl who was also a service dog in training. Pearl stole my heart. She was a beautiful dog with a sunny temperament. I decided that my next service dog would be a poodle.
I carefully researched poodle breeders and found one who has placed puppies with a service dog organization. He health tests his dogs and breeds ethically. Since I am looking for a new service dog in training, this breeder felt like a good fit. 
On Saturday, I drove five hours to the breeder's house. I sat down on his kitchen floor and was mobbed by fuzzy puppies. They bounced all over me, then ran off to play. The fourth puppy to greet me, climbed in my lap and snuggled in my arms. I set her on the floor and she climbed back in my lap. While her sisters raced around playing with each other, this little pup wanted to be with me. 
Did I choose my puppy, or did she choose me? Perhaps we chose each other. It took me five minutes to choose a puppy. I met the puppy's mother. Her name... Honey. It felt like a nod of approval from my dear Honey. It's time to move forward and live again.  I picked up my little puppy, put her in the crate and drove five hours home. It was a long day for both of us. I played Christmas music in my car and The First Noel started playing. I looked at the puppy in the crate beside me and named her Noelle. 
Noelle is 3.11 pounds and 7 and a half weeks old. The vet checked her out and fell in love with her kind temperament. Noelle has the most important trait a service dog needs: strong nerves and a quick recovery from startle. I threw a can in the recycling bin. It was louder than I expected. Noelle looked up, glanced at the bin, and shrugged. I can train my dog to do a thousand tasks, but it doesn't matter if her nerves aren't sound. If she growls or snaps when something surprises her, it's game over. Noelle has potential. So much potential.
I've only had her for five days. In those five days, Noelle has brightened my world. We're clicker training together and it is so much fun. Play tug. Remove the tug toy and hold it behind my back. Wait in silence for Noelle to sit and give me eye contact. Click! Play tug again. Repeat. She isn't even eight weeks old, and she knows the rules to the game. She is learning self control and patience. Watching her puzzle out how to get me to give her the piece of chicken hidden in my hand is a joy. Hold the treat in my hand. She licks and nibbles, but the treat doesn't appear. I watch Noelle thinking. This isn't working. What should I do? Hmm. What if I sit and give eye contact? Click! Release the treat. I say nothing. I just watch the wheels turn in her head. Watch her think. Watch her learn to regulate her behavior on her own. She doesn't even bother sniffing my hand anymore. Sit, look me in the eye, and wait for the click. I love training dogs. Noelle is fun to train. 
We're working on housebreaking, and not chewing my pants, attacking feet, and all the annoying things puppies do. Puppies are a ton of work. But, it is joyful work for me and it is good to have a new Joy Benchmark in my life. I needed one. Welcome, Noelle. Welcome and thank you for lifting me out of the dark. Her registered name is Gave Great Light. Noelle gave great light already and I am so grateful.

Merry Christmas from Marie and Noelle



I am not a doctor. I do not have a medical degree. Nothing on this site qualifies as medical advice. These are lessons I'm learning at the University of Catastrophe. What I find to be correct answers in my classes may not be the right answers for you.

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