This is the ongoing account of living with disability and raising and training a service dog. In time, this account will cover not only my own experiences, but those of others I've met who also have found independence and safety, and a good measure of joy through their service dog partners.
Yesterday, Galen turned five months old. Galen and I are reunited, and have been back together for three weeks now. He spent a couple of weeks with the trainer while I recovered from surgery to repair a broken foot. I had to wait until worker's comp procured a knee scooter to get me mobile again before bringing Galen back home...
Those were an incredibly long two weeks. In Galen's absence, my PTSD symptoms, especially the anxiety, descended on me like a black cloud. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't even really eat.
Anxiety issues are a huge part of PTSD. Most people think of flashbacks and behavior and mood volatility when they hear the letters "PTSD", but anxiety can be the most overwhelming part, especially when the triggers don't make sense, and aren't even necessarily related to events that caused the PTSD. Most of us try to hide what we're truly feeling, bottling it up, because we're afraid of how others will react to these irrational fears and triggers. It grows and grows until I feel like I'm losing sanity. And then... I remembered Rigel. With that memory, I could only imagine one thing that could help, so I swallowed my pride and talked to people, the only people who could help bring my hope for help to fruition. And now...?
Now I have. I incurred financial debt to get him, and while I do have a Gofundme page for fundraising, I never shared it with many people. While the debt does make things harder for me, it's all worth it.
It's a lot of work, and a lot of responsibility to raise a puppy and educate him properly. The rewards, however, make it all worthwhile. Even before teaching him the specific tasks to fulfill my needs, for both PTSD and support for my spine injuries, before any training at all, from the day we met, my anxiety began to become manageable. Since Galen joined my life, for life -- even before his birth, when I knew I would be getting him and was making it a reality -- I've experienced two pay raises at work, and a position change, with greater opportunity for growth. People who don't know me well are even saying I seem happier and more relaxed. I've learned to smile and laugh again. I've become more outgoing and am doing things I've avoided since my accident. And every single day I get to feel the gaze of those loving eyes, the happy vision of a wagging tail, and puppy kisses all over.
Galen is a warm friend who is always beside me to hug when I need comfort. Even those occasions when he is a mischievous little monster bring me joy, because he's here with me, and no matter what happens, I know that his love will be unconditional. He won't turn his back the 10th, hundredth, or thousandth time I get discouraged, afraid, or have a nightmare. That I'm like this doesn't matter to him, just so long as his love and loyalty for me is reciprocated, and I can't imagine a better friend, partner, and helper than that.
He's not without faults, but those are minor, and likely things he will outgrow. I expect the way he is timid around strangers, especially elementary school-aged children, is simply part of a fear period. Many dogs experience several of these when they are young. He also makes me proud. I took him to a sci-fi convention last weekend. For the most part, although I could tell he was stressed, he handled the extreme crowds quite well. In fact, when a man rudely reached down and yanked his tail as we walked past, Galen barely flinched, whereas I lost it and yelled at the man. Given how sensitive Galen can be, I didn't want him to have negative experiences while working with him in overcoming the fear he has. In fact, it is a violation of Federal Law to interfere with a service dog. Unfortunately, most people aren't aware of that, although very few will behave as rudely as the man who yanked Galen's tail did.
I was amused, later, when Galen clearly thought a man dressed as seven-foot-tall Chewbacca was an oversized dog. Galen expressed intense curiosity about the man, yet was a bit timid about getting too close to such a large "dog." Then he was utterly bewildered when the man began using Wookie sound effects. We finally left after Galen got upset when the crowd was cheering at a Klingon dancer. The added noise of cheering was finally too much for him, and I was letting him dictate what he could handle that day.
Every difficulty, every hardship, is now worth it. Galen is changing my life. I know that the coming years are going to be far better than the last three have been, and I have this beautiful puppy to thank for it. Steve thinks he's too big, and true, he's going to be huge (he's 61lbs at five months old, and expected to grow to ~120lbs), but he'll be large and strong enough to be a big help with my spine injuries. I'm getting out more, and I'm doing more things. I'm even meeting more people. Everything is brighter than before.
I am grateful to all of the people who made Galen possible for me. I'm grateful to Guild Assistance Dog Partners (GAP Service Dogs), and the service they provide to aid in his training at no cost to me. I'm grateful to Arizona Shilohs, who worked with me from before Galen was born, and were in communication with both me and GAP in order to ensure I would get the puppy best suited to my needs. I'm grateful to my family, for I was terrified they wouldn't approve -- my dad never approved of my having dogs in the past -- yet in this they have been nothing but supportive. The entire Shiloh Shepherd community has offered a tremendous amount of support and encouragement, always willing to educate me, and helping me find the right breeder and right dogs to create the miracle of Galen. I'm grateful to my friends, who have also been supportive, one who even drove me to Arizona so that I could pick up Galen in person, and meet his family and the breeder, Carla. Finally, I'm grateful to the woman behind the Litter Evaluation Report, who tested each puppy extensively over a long weekend, and helped ensure that I would be getting the puppy best suited for my need for a partner to help my PTSD and spine injury, with the scenting ability to be able to learn to detect cancer and fulfill yet another of my dreams. Galen is everything I had hoped for and more!
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