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Life After Paralysis is a blog that represents a variety of paralysis community members. It is a place for open conversation about the issues and the interests of people living with paralysis, their family, friends, caregivers, and the professionals that serve them.
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For weeks, I've been working on a piece I want to share with you but it's become a tortured mess. It went from earnest to maudlin and appears beyond salvageable. In the middle of the ripping out of hair and gnashing of teeth, 110 pounds of unconditional love threw herself in my lap and demanded her time in the park. Now.
Let me tell you about Pearl…
About 6 years ago, I read an article about the value of a service dog to individuals with SCI and how it was possible to train your own instead of going through the long wait period with an agency. I have had Dobermans as pets in the past but never heard of anyone using a Doberman as a service dog. After some additional research, I was convinced that there was no other dog for me.
She came to me as a tiny of bundle of awkward Dobie charm. Her legs too long for her tiny body, her ears posted with these preposterous bandages. (Before you get on me, she came to me this way, I will not crop my next pup but I didn't reject her because of it.) She looked more like a clumsy moose than a noble Doberman. Within the first 5 minutes of being here, she peed on the floor and hid under the sofa, in the one space I couldn't reach from my chair.
For the longest time, she was too little to keep up with me so she learned how to ride on my lap. Then there was the regular 2AM “I'm hungry, I'm lonely, I need to pee” ritual. There was no way this little fur ball was ever going to take care of me.
Hard to believe she was once small enough to hide under the furniture. Now, if she wants what's under the sofa, she puts her head against it and pushes it out of the way. I have not yet been able to teach her to put the furniture back the way she found it.
Having her here allows me more freedom to be independent. Pearl picks up the things I drop and works light switches; a handy skill to have on hand once you've climbed into bed and then realize the hallway light is still on. Pearl can push my chair. She holds me in my bed when clonus threatens to throw me out.
But more than her specific skills as a service animal, she is my bridge to the rest of humanity; there is no cloak of invisibility when Pearl is around. Folks who would have trouble starting a conversation with me because I just happen to be paralyzed, are more comfortable creating small talk around her - especially when she's doing tricks like High-5s or taking a bow or saying her prayers. Pearl creates that safe space where people can be relaxed enough to learn a little something about life in a chair.
Oh, here's a helpful tip just in case you decide to go the self-trained Doberman service dog route: if you want to get through the grocery store with any haste, DO NOT put pink high-top dog booties on your girl, no matter how hot the pavement is. Dobie divas making fashion statements draw way too much attention and everyone needs to stop you to talk about it. Stick with the ugly black neoprene thingies.
Even friends who don't like dogs (really, who doesn't like dogs?) love Pearl. Once you get past the fact she's nearly as tall as a Great Dane, runs faster than any human AND she can open doors, she grows on you.
Personality-wise she's part dragon, part cow, all diva and 100% devoted to loving those humans she claims as hers. She has protected me from an intruder who wandered into my house looking for mischief. She sheltered me when I fell and spent 27 hours trapped on the floor in my unheated home. When I was feverish from kidney stones, I awoke from the haze to find she'd brought me a pile of kibble with her favorite toy on top; Pearl lay right there counting my breaths. Then she's the same animal that snores in one spot without bothering to wake up when someone expected arrives. She has perfected the art of being aloof while simultaneously demanding your total attention. Although I am loathe to admit it, I lose a lot of arguments to her.
I cannot fall into depressive inaction when this beast demands her time to run every single day and I am forced outside in the fresh air and sunshine. I have to come out of any self-exile blanket cave to feed her. Caring for her means I cannot become completely self-absorbed. When it's impossible for me to leave my bed or leave my home, she's here, willing to nap with me or amuse me.
As I write, I realize that she turns 6 this week. So, Happy Birthday Pearly-Pie. Thank you for filling that place in my heart I didn't even know was empty.
© 2013 Jennifer Longdon |