Friday, July 29, 2016

Ohio Service Dog Awareness Week

Who knew this week was Ohio Service Dog Awareness Week?? Obviously not me or you know I would have been so much better prepared with this blog post. Instead I'm left scrambling to come up with an interesting post with less than 24 hours left in the week...challenge accepted!

It's crazy to think that this week a year ago, we were just beginning the process of looking into service dogs and whether or not a dog could be an option for me...and I didn't even know this week existed. (Although I suppose I still didn't know this week existed this year either...)

I remember the first time I walked into a store with Leni. It was the second time I had met her, and we were with her trainer and other service-dogs-to-be during one of their weekly training outings. Even with a group of 7-8 dogs in training, I still felt super self-conscious walking into the Halloween store with a dog next to me. I felt even more like I was under a magnifying glass when Leni and I went next door to Bed, Bath, and Beyond with just one of the trainers. We were the only dog in sight, and even though none of the sales associates gave us a second glance, I felt like everyone was staring. Now, 9 months later, it feels weird when I don't have Leni by my side.

What would I do without this goof?
That doesn't mean that things are always smooth sailing. People often don't know how to react to a dog being out in public. Before I had Leni, I'm not sure I ever saw a working service dog. I know I had seen a couple puppies in training, but a full-on service dog, nope, never. Even in the 9 months since having her, other than when we do training outings with Buckeye Service Dogs, I've only seen one other service dog. Whenever we are out and about, I get lots of comments about Leni...how cute she is, how well behaved she is, and whether she is mine or if I'm training her.

One of the biggest adjustments I had to get used to was the fact that I am sick being on display. According to the ADA, service dogs can be used by disabled individuals to perform or assist a person with something they cannot do by themselves. Having Leni has been so incredible for her alerts and giving me some semblance of control over my otherwise uncontrollable mast cells, but it does mean that my invisible illness is now visible.

One of the most common comments that I get from people is that I'm "so lucky" to have my dog with me everywhere. I typically just smile and nod because I don't really know how else to respond...but I wish I could really share what I think when I hear that.

Although this picture certainly does make me feel lucky =P
I can have Leni with me because I'm disabled...meaning I have a "physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity (according to the ADA)." I won't go into the specifics, but the reality is I can have Leni with me because I have mast cell disease and she is a major part of the way we are able to manage my symptoms. I love Leni and am so grateful to have her, but know that I am 100% honest when I say that I wish I didn't need her. How is it "so lucky" to have a medical condition that can cause anaphylaxis to absolutely nothing? Doesn't seem "so lucky" to have had severe neurological symptoms from chronic hypoglycemia or to be so unaware of low blood sugars that I have to be about to pass out before I realize I'm low...

Working hard or hardly working?
I know that people mean well when they say things like I'm "so lucky" to have Leni. But the reality is that I would give anything not to need her. Am I "so grateful" to have her? Absolutely. I'm also "so thankful" to Buckeye Service Dogs for training her and "so happy" to be getting back to running with her by my side and "so thrilled" to have regained some control over my crazy symptoms...and of course "so snuggly" when she curls up with me on my rough mast cell days =) But "so lucky"...not the words I would choose.

 A year ago I had no idea the scope of tasks that service dogs could do. It has been one crazy year of learning and growing both in my knowledge of service dogs and in my partnership with Leni. While I so wish my health was not at a point where I need her, I am thankful for the health I can have because of her. Plus, thanks to Leni, I get the opportunity to not only raise awareness for service dogs but also for mast cell disease every time I have the opportunity to share about why I have her.

Raising awareness is so much bigger than just one person, though, so as always thank you to all our family and friends for learning about service dogs along with us! Please feel free to share this post and continue being a part of help me raise awareness for mast cell disease and all that comes along with it, including Leni!

Who could resist this face???

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