Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leni the Awareness Ambassador!

Leni is taking her service dog talent on the road!

We met a friend at Bible study a few weeks back who is a preschool teacher. She told me her classes were doing a week on working dogs and already had a therapy dog and police dog lined up to visit her classroom. She asked if Leni and I would be willing to come and talk about service dogs. Obviously we said YES or there would be no reason for me to blog!

Leni and I had so much fun! We got to spend about half an hour with each class and talk a little bit about what it means to be a service dog and what Leni does for me. I showed them what Leni carries in her packs and how I use the pull cord for balance when I need it. Leni demonstrated some of her tasks for the kids, such as "find my phone" and "get my EpiPen."

We showed them how she focuses on me even when it's loud and crazy and ways we can move through crowded areas without taking up tons of space. We go to show how she tucks under my legs if I'm sitting or between my legs in we're waiting in line. She also showed how she will lie across my lap if I'm sitting on the floor or put her front paws and weight on my legs if I'm in a chair to help increase blood flow and feeling in my legs when they don't want to work right.

Then, of course, we did some of her fun tricks! Leni showed them how she can bow and "sit pretty." She also weaved through my legs and was overall just so stinking cute!

At the end of our 30 minutes, all the kids got to come up and pet her. One of the boys in the second class was so so sweet with her. He was gently petting her on the head and whispering quietly to her talking about how she was such a good dog and he wished his dog was as good and that she need to keep taking care of me. It was so cute!

Thank you so much to our friend, Lisa Faluotico, for inviting us to come and spend some time with her classes! This was the first time Leni and I have been invited to talk in a classroom about service dogs, and we had a great time. It was fun for both Leni and me and the kids (at least judging from the smiles on their faces!), plus it was a great chance to raise some awareness for service dogs.

I know, you're probably thinking, they're 5 years does that count for raising awareness?? Well, let me ask you, how many 5 year olds do you know that ever. stop. talking?? All the kids likely went home and told their parents and sibling about the cool dogs they met this week. Even if they don't remember the specific details, they now know what service dogs are. Plus, these 32 kids learned  not to rush up and pet a working dog they might see in a grocery store or restaurant.

They might only be 5 years old right now, but eventually they'll grow up (sorry, parents, it's true!). There are some childhood memories that just stick with us. I remember the ONE time our basset hound came to church wearing a t-shirt for a specific children's church skit. I barely remember much else about that church building or what was done in children's church, but I do remember that. It's not often dogs come to school, so these are memories that may stick with these kids. Maybe when they're in middle or high school, a classmate will have a service dog and all of a sudden, they'll remember learning about Leni back when they were in preschool.

I've said many times that we don't always get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond. I certainly didn't choose to have mast cell disease, but I do get to decide how I'm going to live with it. Mast cell disease is one of almost 7000 rare diseases of which 95% (including mast cell disease) have no FDA approved treatment or cure. Without research, there's nothing that can change that. And just like everything else in this world, research is driven by funding. As a rare disease, it is that much more difficult to get funding because so few people are impacted by these conditions and not many more even know about them.

There's no chance of treatments or cures being developed without research, no research without funding, and no funding without awareness. Obviously I'm not able to be in the lab doing the research, and unfortunately I'm not independently wealthy...but I do have a voice. And that's how I'm choosing to live with mast cell disease. I could be upset that my life isn't going as planned or get stuck mourning the life I had, but that accomplishes nothing. Instead, I'm choosing to use the platform I've been given to speak up. For me and thousands of others living with mast cell disease so that we can continue to hope that one day a treatment or cure will be found. For the thousands of kids and adults who will hopefully not have to wait 8 years for a diagnosis being told along the way they are making everything up. For the families who have to watch helplessly as we suffer with symptoms and there is nothing they can do. I might not be able to do a lot, but I can speak out.

And that's one of the reasons I enjoy even what seem like small things, like sharing about service dogs with a preschool class. Maybe one of those kids will grow up to cure mast cell disease...or another rare disease...Maybe one will become a doctor who recognizes the potential of a service dog for a patient...or maybe these kids will just grow up realizing that having a service dog or disability doesn't make a person weird or someone to be avoided...And if that's the case, that's enough.

So, like I said, Leni's going on tour! We're sharing our story through fluffy poodle snuggles, ear licks, and altogether cuteness along with educating about what service dogs can do and what life is like with mast cell disease. Let me know if you would like us to come and share about service dogs or mast cell disease and be another stop on our awareness tour!

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