Sir Thomas and I encounter people everyday who sing his praises and seem genuinely moved by the ways he helps me move. On rare occasions, I meet other service dog handlers and the amazing dogs that help them move. Melissa and Tanner are one of those pairs.
Though our encounter was brief, it took only those few moments to witness the bond this young partnership already shares. One focused on not letting the other fail while the other remained determined not to fail. This is their story:
Can you imagine hearing the words “your baby girl probably won’t live”? Those are the words my mother heard in 1978 when I was born very prematurely. My mother, then only 21, almost lost her life as well during childbirth, but ultimately we survived together that day and lived to fight for many more.
When I clearly proved to the doctors that I was going to live, my mother was then told about all the things I would never do or achieve, living with Cerebral Palsy. Though the doctors may have known how the body works, they underestimated the human spirit for achieving things in life. I was determined to let my spirit shine brightly.
Dogs have been my companions since I was five years old and our family got our first dog. Cami was supposed to be the family dog, but he quickly showed everyone he was really MY dog. I would accidentally stumble over him at times, which would elicit a very grumpy response from him if anyone else did it – but not with me. You see, Cami knew I was different and could not help such things, so he forgave me. Because of my relationship with my dog, as I grew older I was allowed to go around the block and stay home alone like any other kid. My parents saw how close Cami stayed to me and how he did things for me that he did for no one else. They knew I was not alone even when no other people where there. I had my dog. The freedom and confidence I got from Cami as a child led me to seek partnership with a service dog when I became a young adult.
My first service dog, Bastien, was a dog I trained myself while I was in college. Bastien and I lived together for 7 years, surviving four apartments, three jobs, and two boyfriends while traveling to over half the states and four countries. Bastien retrieved dropped items, pulled my wheelchair, opened doors for me both literally and figuratively, and lent me his energy by doing things physically for me so I could use my limited reserves to achieve my dreams and live more fully.
When Bastien retired I knew I didn’t ever want to live my life without a service dog, but at the same time my very busy work and travel schedule took all the energy I had and I knew I wouldn’t be able to find and train another dog myself. I was thrilled to discover a local service dog organization and turned to Summit to be matched with my second dog.
I waited a year for my next dog, Shiloh, and this was a very tough time in my life. I lost much of my mobility and energy … and my confidence. Without a dog, I had to cut back my work hours and hire help at home. And I didn’t feel as safe being out and about, so my social life diminished too. With human caregivers I often felt indebted, out of control, an inconvenience, and unequal. After all, I needed them infinitely more than they needed me. Unlike receiving help from another human, my service dogs need me as much as I need them. I must respond to them, care for them, give to them, and love them as much as they do me, so we may achieve the most together. We are truly partners.
When Summit partnered me with my second dog Shiloh in 2008 I got my life back, returned to work full time and rediscovered a safety and balance in my life I had lost when my first service dog retired. I was also absolutely sure I had made the right decision to choose a program-trained dog. Not only did I receive a dog who was well trained and up to the job, I received so much wonderful support from the Summit staff as Shiloh and I learned to be a team. And that support remained until Shiloh retired last year.
As I prepare this month to welcome my third partner, Tanner, into my life, I’m reminded that I have so
much to celebrate as we enter this holiday season. My new dog Tanner, provided free of charge again
by Summit, is without a doubt the best gift I’ll be receiving. The only sting I feel is knowing there are many
others who won’t be receiving a dog along with me this year because Summit has many more waiting clients
than they have dogs available. I want everyone to experience what I have … hence this letter.
I know there are so many needs in the world and programs that do great work, but as you consider your
year-end giving in the weeks to come I hope you will consider investing in a life-changing partnership
between a person and a dog by making a generous donation to Summit. If you have not done so already,
you can make a donation by mailing a check to: P.O. Box 699, Anacortes, WA 98221 or by credit card through
partnerships possible, I’ve left a whole lot of “you’ll never be able to” in my wake. Thank you so much!
My story would not be complete without sharing the news with you that I recently accepted my dream job of becoming a dog trainer for Summit Assistance Dogs. To be able to help others reach their full potential through partnership with a service dog is my greatest achievement to date!
May your holidays be as happy as mine! Thank you for your support!