This post is written for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (http://learninbabysteps.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/call-for-submissions-for-the-ninth-assistance-dog-blog-carnival/). Pain dictates how I physically write and constrains my thoughts, making me far more parsimonious. I have not blogged in several years and have lost my writing voice.
Moments of Epiphany: My First Eighteen Months with a Service Dog
Epiphany 1. I was attacked in my home, more than once. One of my attackers, asking me, “Where is your God now?” Short on oxygen, skeptic that I am, I said, “He is here, can’t you see him?” The angel Gabriel, so bright, to my left. Epiphany.
Epiphany 2. I needed my service dog now; I could no longer wait. At least I would not be alone. At least I would have help. No more missed lunches because of limited reach or days spent in bed because I picked up a dropped item, my urine backing into my kidneys and causing painful infections because I could not get enough leverage to get myself up. Now my dog would also be needed for PTSD.
Epiphany 3. The breeder placed him in my lap. His golden eyes met mine, he turning to see me. Flirtatious and playful. He was mine, and I knew. I considered the other potential match carefully, but clearly this one wanted to go home with us. He snoozed in my arms. Gabriel.
Epiphany 4. On the long drive to the trainer that night, my dog licked my arm. I offered him a sip of water from a cup. Later, he licked my arm again, clearly using this signal to indicate thirst. I again offered the water. We were communicating. Few know this power. No one knows how intensely and nonverbally a service dog team communicates except the team themselves. I know when he recognizes someone, when he’s afraid, when he does not like something someone says about him. I know his longings. To others, he is merely standing or looking, his nose twitching. But I read him like a book.
Epiphany 5. The trainer, someone who had become a close friend, had grabbed him up so that he slid back and slammed his head into a cabinet because he sniffed a crumb on the floor. The next day she attacked him in my bedroom because he did not stay as instructed and ran away in fear. He screamed and did not stop screaming. She left with him. My heart, like a heart attack, like I was rent in two. My husband traveled a day to get him. With my dog returned to my arms, at first afraid even of me, I dreamed. A golden angel, as from an illuminated manuscript, and a song of comfort: “Feel the rush of an angel.” Epiphany. I could do this myself, with help from my family. I did not have to have someone else train him.
Epiphany 6. Lessons in intelligent disobedience. Sometimes he crosses his body in front of my wheelchair, forcing me to stop so rapidly that sometimes I bump him. Sometimes he stands in front of me in public and refuses to lie down, or does not leave enough clearance for others to get around, despite my commands otherwise. I am embarrassed but cannot figure out this behavior until one day it hits me with a force. Ever since someone grabbed my damaged shoulder, ever since someone knocked into me in the movie theater, hard, every time I am at risk from others, every time I am afraid of a man, he positions himself so that I cannot get injured. He knows when there’s very little room and others will not be careful, injuring me. He will also block if I do not see a stranger approaching. I thought I would have to teach him these very difficult tasks somehow, eventually. I didn’t.
Epiphany 7. He has been with me every day for over a year. I don’t get severe kidney infections anymore. I am not incapacitated for days because I drop my car keys or the phone and have to retrieve them (even with PT and reachers, I can never master bending over without a major pain flare). People don’t bump into me in the wheelchair, causing me further injury. We’ve done it. We’re not a perfect team. He doesn’t like to come back inside when the weather’s good. I give him the wrong commands by mistake when I get tired. But yes, he’s an angel.