By Deanie H.
Life is good. No, really, it’s great! But it wasn’t always so. Five years ago an illness took away all my inner ear function. In everyday terms, that means I have no balance. None at all. I was told I would never walk again. Instead of accepting that, I spent months and months with the finest rehab specialists who taught me to walk using cues from my eyes. So walking became possible, but drained my energy really quickly. I went from being an extremely independent and active woman to a homebody. My friends and family are wonderful, but most things outside the house were so taxing that I preferred to stay at home. I could no longer keep up with my friends in the mall, on trips to new places, or anything else we used to do.
No balance leads to falls. The first big fall resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury. I recovered to a good quality of life, but nowhere near a full recovery. So now, not only did I find myself with no balance, I also had limited threshold for brain input: information, sounds, visual movement. My ability to compensate for my balance loss was now even lower, as became my quality of life. More falls and several concussions later I was told there was a limit to how many times my brain would recover. My once good life was not so good anymore.
One day I happened to meet a woman with a service dog who assisted her with mobility. She was kind enough to give me her phone number and the next day she introduced me to the life-changing organization, Canine Partners for Life in Cochranville, PA. I was overwhelmed by the information they gave me as to how a service dog could improve my life. I filled out an application and visited the school often to observe Graduate Support Classes. Wow! Just the thought that the school continues their involvement with you even after you get the dog was amazing. After what seemed like forever, but was in fact only a few months’ wait, I was introduced to Carlos, a chocolate standard poodle.
Suddenly my days brightened. There was the promise of a better tomorrow. I trained with Carlos and ten other teams for three weeks. He and I learned about each other. I learned that Carlos could significantly lower my stress and energy waste. He assumed the responsibility of counterbalancing me so that I can walk safely. He will pick up the things I drop, he’ll get me the phone if I fall and he even senses when I’m pushing my brain to overload. He makes it clear to me that I need to take a break. All the things that went wrong he makes easier for me.
Before I even realized it, my calendar was filling up again. I had appointments, social events, hikes, and at least as many outings as I had before. Probably more. I found myself exploring new adventures with my partner, Carlos, and making new friends along the way. And now I also have a new family of friends in the staff and graduates of service dogs at Canine Partners for Life. And yes, my long-term friends and I are taking the world by storm once again.
So, is life good? You bet it is!
-Deanie and Carlos