Owning a service dog helps our 2018 Winter Inspire/Empower spotlight with her lupus. Read her story here, and enjoy these two other stories about how service dogs have brought joy and hope to their owner’s lives (and other people around them).
Haven: My Strength to Go On
Being Diagnosed with Chronic Illness
At age fourteen, while out for what would be the last run of my life, I felt something very wrong. Everything changed with one simple step. After visiting several specialists, I was diagnosed with what doctors called snapping hip syndrome. There is a tendon that runs down each side of the body, connecting several joints (hips, knees, ankles) and plays a large role in simple activities. Every step that I took caused the tendon to snap over the head of my femur bone and snap back.
Months of physical therapy, failed surgeries, and ten years later, it spread to my other side and both snap on the inside and outside of the hip, along with chronic bursitis and tendonitis (both knees/ hips). Standing, walking, sitting, no matter what, it is all engulfed in pain. It is constant. It is relentless. The last thing my doctor said to me was, “you are just going to have to learn to deal with it.” That was it. My life, my future plans, it all came crashing down.
What Chronic Pain Is Like
Chronic pain is chaos of body and mind. It is having no control. It is saying “I’m fine” but never meaning it. Countless people believe you are lying, all they see is a person that does not fit the mold of “sick.” Someone who has no choice but to be stronger than they feel, to lie rather than complain and be a burden to the world. It is missing out, feeling alone, and losing dreams. At twenty, my attitude was positive. I had been angry and depressed when my condition first became chronic, but realized that since I could not change my illness, I could only not allow it to consume me. I had to find my silver lining, the strength to go on, and live one day at a time. But when it started to get worse again I knew I needed help.
Help is a Four-Legged Word
I had become a dog trainer while getting my bachelors degree. I wanted to train service dogs for others (and am still working towards this), far before I thought of training one for myself. My thoughts were on veterans coming home after giving their all for their country, and losing a part of themselves in the process. Service dogs were doing wonders for them, giving them their lives back, and allowing them to heal. I wanted to give back to these amazing men and women.
Haven Gave Me Strength
I decided to put myself to test as a trainer and hopefully improve my quality of life. Haven the Australian Shepherd came into my life in 2013. I knew the moment she came home that she was going to change my life. From day one, she never left my side. She was always aiming to please, and the happiest dog I had ever met.
I taught her to pick things up and give them to me, or place them in something like a laundry basket or trash can. I taught her to brace whenever I stopped walking, to give me support when I needed it. She lays on top of me for supportive pressure and comfort. She brings me my shoes and helps me get them off at the end of the day. I taught her to never leave me, and to lay across my feet in public. She opens and closes doors and drawers for me. I taught her to help me up when I fall or black out.
Haven taught me that life goes on. She taught me that no matter how much you lose or who hurts you, there is always a silver lining. I learned from her that there is always love to be found and life to enjoy. She taught me to let go, but never give up. I now live one day at a time, to stay the course no matter how rough the waters get because of her. She taught me there would always be someone to kiss away the tears on the worst days. She taught me patience and joy.
One Day At A Time
To everyone struggling with a chronic illness, invisible or not, take heart. No matter how hard it gets, there is good in every day of this life, and it is worth fighting for. There are people that love you, they are worth fighting for. Let go of the negative thoughts, people, and things in your life. Hold on to what makes you happy, and the people who refuse to give up on you. Consider the service dog path, it will change your life. My own life would be so different without Haven. Most of all, remember to have patience, and be an advocate for yourself. We cannot control what others think or how they act, we can only control how we react. Keep moving forward, have faith in yourself, and never, ever give up.
by Sharon Bellingeri
Henri: The Labradoodle Healing Me and Helping Others
When we adopted a labradoodle requiring attention, care, and energy, I suddenly had less time to focus on my own troubles and anxieties. My anxiety and panic disorder gradually became less prominent in my day-to-day life. Long walks with Henri cleared my mind and brought new and needed perspective to difficult situations. With Henri to focus on, I started noticing my overall mental, physical, and emotional health improving. Where I was initially concerned about a dog negatively affecting my health and allergies, the exact opposite turned out to be true.
Sharing Henri with others
About six months into life with Henri, the healing and joy that she brought me was so immense that I felt called to share it, to share her, with others. I began weekly training classes with Henri, and around her second birthday, we became a certified therapy dog team. My longtime dream of using her to help others find peace, joy, and respite was finally becoming a reality.
Whether visiting the Alzheimer’s care facility or the children’s center at the public library, Henri has proven her incredible ability to ease others into a state of relaxation and bliss. Through silly tricks, stolen kisses, and full body hugs, Henri helps people focus on the here and now. (This can be nearly impossible for those affected by loss, trauma, illness, or mental health challenges.) As one person interacting with Henri on a therapy visit put it, being with Henri is a meditative experience.
“I need this. I need her.”
It’s impossible to summarize the myriad of experiences that Henri and I have had on our therapy adventures together, but our most recent visit to the local homeless shelter is not one I’ll soon forget. If I had to guess, neither will Henri. For nearly an hour, a bearded man with kind, sad eyes laid on the floor of the community room cradling Henri in his arms. While affectionate with everyone, Henri doesn’t typically let strangers hold her so close for so long. For this man, brokenhearted and bruised, Henri didn’t move from her post.
The man told the story of his own dog, a German Shepherd, who saved him from his 30-year heroin addiction. She tragically died in a house fire six months ago. The man not only became homeless but lost the one thing he loved most in the world. Henri’s soft, wavy curls caught the man’s tears as they rolled off of his cheeks. As we wrapped up our visit, the man told me that Henri was the first dog he had interacted with since his own dog died. Henri and I padded out of the community room and the man looked up at us from the floor and tearfully said, “I needed this, I needed her.”
Reflecting on Henri’s impact in my life
“I needed this, I needed her.” Those words have echoed in my mind ever since our shelter visit. Whether Henri is making me laugh and adding joy to an already good day or letting me vent to her after a particularly miserable one, I can’t help but also think, “I need this, I need her.” Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for the companionship that Henri has brought me, and the life lessons I have learned along the way. What started off as my own selfish quest to have a dog has turned into a way for me to reach and connect with some of the most beautiful and needful people in my community.
by Courtney Perry
These articles originally posted on our sister publication, Everyday Dog Magazine.