I don’t know if anyone else ever sat down after being given the news of a chronic illness and made a list of “what if’s”. I am not talking the kind of panic-stricken or feeling sorry for yourself what ifs like “What if I can’t take care of my family anymore?” or “What if I loose my job?” I am talking taking the list of things that are possible with a given chronic illness and said “If this happens I am going to do this” and making a plan.
I have always been a very difficult patient. This is both a good and bad thing. When I started having more than the occasional problem with my hip I didn’t get it looked at initially. I limped a lot, not just because of pain, but because my right hip and shoulder sit a full inch higher than the left due to the curvature in my spine. For the longest time I refused to use a cane and struggled. I hate to admit it, but it took watching House MD and relating to his chronic pain to realize I probably needed a cane. Contrary to what we all think, it’s not a decision a doctor will make for you. With the exception of injuries, it’s up to you to decide when you need that cane. That cane also serves as a gauge to your doctor how well you can get around.
I also refused to get handicapped plates for the car for the longest time. I kept saying “Someone needs that spot more than me.” It took slipping on ice one winter to realize that I was, once again, just being a stubborn ass and I asked the doctor to sign my DMV paperwork.
I was always sure that all the dizzy spells and headaches and other problems were related to my back because, well, it’s your spine and one of the major parts of your central nervous system. I never complained to the doctor about any of the other odd things that were going on. Then, one day, I stepped out of the shower and passed out. That’s when the fibro journey began.
I had a lot to figure out and a lot of research to do. I needed to know what pain and symptoms were related to my back, what were fibro, and what were the arthritis. If I can’t tell the doctor what was going on, the doctor couldn’t help me. This is when I realized that one day I would be in a wheelchair and that list of What If’s was made.
One of the things that made that list was, “When the time comes I will get a service dog.”
I had no idea what the dog would do, I just knew that people in wheelchairs sometimes had dogs to help them. I really hadn’t through it through. I also didn’t put much thought into what defined “The Time”.
Fast forward to this year. A few things have happened.
- My fibro is no longer controlled very well with meds. I can’t really change meds as I have gone through all of them over the years. I now have chronic shingles as part of it. This means an increased risk for nerve damage on top of everything else.
- I have developed chronic bursitis in my right shoulder as a result of my scoliosis. Back in the 70’s there wasn’t a lot braces or anything to help slow progression, help with pain or anything. My doctor said, “We will have to keep an eye on that” and then didn’t. Now I am told that there is nothing that can really be done except manage the pain and the damage that is slowly happening to my bod. My doctor’s best advice after giving me a cortisone shot was “Don’t cause any additional stress to that shoulder. I don’t want you tearing your rotator cuff.” Yea, I don’t want to either. That sounds painful and I am not a fan of surgery.
- I have started falling. The combination of dizziness/balance issues/clumsiness from the fibro and a hip that does it’s job under protest is a bad combination.
- My arthritis has gotten worse and my doctor thinks we might be looking at the start of rheumatoid arthritis. All I know is there is swelling, a lot of pain, and some days I can’t use my hands at all and walking is incredibly painful.
The first fall happened while going up the stairs. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “I might want to start thinking about a dog and maybe a wheelchair.” I finally decided to start researching service dogs and what they can do. I read everything I could about brace and mobility support dogs, because that is what I decided I was going to need. Anything Is Pawsable has a wonderful overview of what these dogs do.
Then the second fall happened and I hurt myself. My hands and wrists were already hurting me and I was having a hard time using them, then I injured one in a fall. As I was laying on the floor the red light came on in my brain that said “Dog. Now.” I looked over at my Dachshund who was wondering what I was doing on the floor. He is an old dog. I brought him home as a tiny puppy more than 12 years ago and I was hoping that he could live out his senior years as an a only dog just because that is what he was used to. How was he going to take the news it wasn’t meant to be?
Even more important, what kind of dog was I going to get? Going through an organization that trains and places service dogs wasn’t going to happen. It could very well end up costing tens of thousands of dollars or they could turn me down based on their own disability criteria. And then there were the waiting lists. It all seemed like a frustrating process at best and not one that I wanted to go through. I would find a puppy and train it myself with the help of a trainer. I needed something large, after all, he was going to have to help me get up when I fell. My list of potential dog breeds looked something like this:
- Saint Bernard
- Alaskan Malamute
Strange list, I know. I started researching what dogs made the best brace and mobility support dogs and Molosser working dogs came up. I had no idea what Molosser dogs were so it was back to Google. Molosser working dogs are a group of dogs that are extra sturdy – they have a large bone structure – and were bred to work independently guarding livestock from wolves and bears and the like. They have those broad chest and shoulders that make you think twice when they are running at you for a body check. It would be like getting run over by a linebacker if that linebacker were a dog.
After finding a list of the Molosser group of dogs my list got revised.
Akita– Dr. J. (the vet that I used to work for) always called them cat eaters. Let’s not take the chance. I like my cat, even if he is an asshole.
- Saint Bernard – Dog drool needs to be considered here.
- Alaskan Malamute – If they can pull a sled they can pull a wheelchair if needed.
Pit bull– I don’t think it would be a good idea if my service dog scared people and people are convinced that every pit bull on the planet is going to eat them and their children.
- Great Pyrenees – I don’t know anything about these dogs but found a couple cool news articles about how they are starting to be used for service dogs and therapy dogs. Need to research breed.
I then started looking at what the initial cost of the puppy was going to be and how easy the breeds were to find. I even checked the local shelter and rescue groups. After a lot of reading and research and crazy stories I decided not to go through a rescue because rescue groups tend to have a perfect picture of the life that a dog they are placing should lead (this is all fine and well and there are people out there who can provide that picturesque lifestyle for the dog) and someone involved may not like the idea of one of their dogs being trained to be a service dog.
During my research of breeds I decided that “Independent” was more important than “easy to train”. A service dog needs to be able to think for itself, make decisions, and do what it was trained to do. I really liked the idea of an independent working breed because they were bred to make decisions without human intervention. In my mind, that is a plus even if they are on the stubborn side and training takes longer.
I crossed the Saint Bernard off my list after deciding that I didn’t want to deal with the copious amounts of drool they can produce. In my list of “gross animal bodily fluids” large amounts of dog drool comes right after horse snot. I am convinced that whoever came up with the idea for Slimer and his slime in Ghostbusters had been sneezed on by a horse at some point in their life. It’s the same effect.
The Alaskan Malamute got crossed off for the simple reason that I didn’t think that anyone would take me, or my dog seriously, if I got an Alaskan Malamute. I didn’t want anyone thinking that I was using wanting/needing a service dog was an excuse to get a “cool dog”.
This left me with the Great Pyrenees and I started looking for dogs and I found what I thought was the perfect littler. It sounds weird to say but my gut told me that my puppy was in this litter.
Talking to the owners, I learned that the parents were livestock guardian dogs and took care of sheep. Mom is a Bloodhound/Pyrenees mix and Dad is a Great Pyrenees. When they have puppies they are sold to others who want livestock guardian dogs. I am sure that someone somewhere who has no idea what farm life is like considers this “backyard breeding” and is going to tell me this is bad. Just don’t. I am actually excited I found a Farm Grown Free Range Puppy™. I also discovered that they had previous puppies that went on to become service dogs for disabled veterans.
I made arrangements to go meet the puppies and found Pickles.
I can’t wait until he comes home on November 6 and I am looking forward to training him. He’s got a lot to learn. I just hope he doesn’t end up missing the goats on the farm…