Monday, October 19, 2009
Living With a Service Dog
As many of you know I have a Saint Francis service dog named Montana, who is a 4-year-old black Labrador Retreiver. He came into my life the end of December 2007, so we've lived together for nearly two years now.
It is a lot of work and responsibility owning one of these fantastic animals. Do you know that, with the remarkable breeding, raising of the dog until he or she is placed with a partner, vet bills and training, they are estimated to be worth $25,000.
At first, I was terrified that I would do something wrong and they would take him away from me. I lived in fear that they would decide I didn't really need him and someone else on the waiting list needed him more. Of course, none of that happened. I relaxed, and Montana has always been relaxed.
The other day, my husband asked me what my choice would be if I could 1) be cured of MS and have to give my dog to another who needed him, or 2) keep Montana and keep MS. There was no hesitation, I said that I would rather keep him and not be cured. Note: That will never happen either, because six months after he came to live with us I signed ownership papers. He is mine, as I am his.
Because service dogs go out in public, in doctor's offices, restaurants, hotels, and even hospitals, they must be kept groomed and clean. I brush Montana every day, brush his teeth three days a week. I have his nails clipped every other month at his vet's office because I don't have the strength in my hands to do it myself. His trainer bathes him four times a year for me out at the Saint Francis farm.
We work together every day, practicing the commands I use all the time and also practicing the commands I rarely, if ever use. The two biggest things he does for me is to walk on my left and help me keep my balance. I can grab his shoulders with my left hand if I lose my balance. He's also been able to steady me just by standing right up against my left leg. The other thing he does for me is to help me get up off the floor. If I fall, or if I'm sitting down grooming him or petting him, I can't get back up by myself. I get into a squatting position, and he comes to my left side. I'm then able to hold onto him and push with my right arm on the floor, and get to my feet.
He picks up things I drop, including my forearm crutch. He can get the phone for me in an emergency. He can run to the other end of the house and get my husband. I say, "Montana, help!" and he runs to the nearest person (who happens to be my husband most of the time), he barks twice, then he runs back to me.
He is also able to conduct a business transaction. Say I'm in a wheelchair and I can't reach the cashier. I would hold my money or my credit card out to Montana and give him the command "take it", then I would say "Montana, up!". He jumps with his front feet on the counter and holds the money or card until I say "drop it". He then drops it in the cashier's hand.
It's like anything else, if you don't practice something you forget how to do it.
He has made a world of difference to me and for me, and I try to give back to him as much or more than he gives to me.