If you have been following along, you know that I have a service dog named Joella. Jo came to me when she was six months old, in January of 2001. She is now two and one half years old and doing great. I have lately been thinking of the process so far with Jo and I as well as the journey ahead.
Has Joella been a help to me? (a resounding) YES! She has not only gotten me out of my mental rut, but has also been physically helpful. She picks stuff up that I drop. Sounds like no big deal, except that when I bend and twist to do it myself, there will be a muscle somewhere that gets pulled and/or spasms. She hands me the dirty clothes out of the laundry basket. No bending over twenty times per wash. She carries smaller objects when my hands get full at the grocery store. (just don’t give her the bag with the tomatoes or the bread).
Would I get another one if I had to retire Jo? Yep. Would it be the same breed (rottweiler)? Probably. Depends on if I can find the one I am looking for. Not just any dog can be a service dog. Not even all Golden Retrievers would make a good service dog. CCI has about a ninety percent flunking rate of the dogs they breed just for service dog work. Whatever dog I get will be a large dog, sixty-five pounds plus. Less bending over to touch it or to get whatever out of its mouth.
Did I just hit the lucky slot machine when I got Joella? Well, while Jo is a sweetie and is doing great with me, she does have her faults and problems. She is almost too intelligent for one. Yes, that is possible. An intelligent dog knows it can choose to do something or not. (“You dropped it, you pick it up.”) An intelligent dog can find ways to get out of doing something. (“Is this what you wanted? No? Okay, is it this one?”) And sadly, Joella has been diagnosed with mild hip dysplasia. That means I cannot use her for weight bearing and probably not for pulling a cart. The walking she will do alongside my chair will be good exercise for her. And it means that I will start the process of looking for another dog in about two yrs or less.
What would I do differently? For one, get a younger pup. At six months, Joella was already messed up by her previous owners. It took me several months to get her self esteem up. Another thing would be to make sure the basics of obedience was successfully understood. Joella will do lots of things, but STAY and COME are two commands she pretends to be deaf when she hears.
What would I do the same? SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, and then I would get the pup to meet as many people as possible. A service dog in training (SDIT) cannot be introduced to too many people. The wider the variety the better. And not just people, but other animals, sports mascots (Joella had the snot scared out of her by the Easter Bunny when she was just nine months old), and different situations.
So, if you are a dog person, a service dog can indeed be of use to a person with EDS. From picking up keys (the #1 thing I drop) to helping with laundry to helping you stand, a service dog is the cutest piece of medical equipment ever. But of course, I am biased in that statement.
Originally published in EDSToday newsletter issue #7
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