I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008. I was thirty years old.
When I was at the care center for one of my former treatments, I heard another lady talking with the nurse about getting a canine assistant. I never really gave a service dog much thought. In fact, I had always thought that service dogs were only for the blind or deaf. This lady's symptoms were very similar to mine. She was telling the nurse that she is alone much of the time because her husband works long hours, so she was looking into getting a service dog in the event that she needed help when no one was around.
I suppose the conversation I overheard that day sparked an interest in me. Still, a service dog to me was a Golden Retriever.
In the fall of 2009, our family went together to a local clinic to get our H1N1 vaccinations. There, I saw a lady who had a Pit Bull for a service dog. I don't know what her disability is, but I immediately became intrigued by having a Pit Bull as a service dog. I am a big fan of Pit Bulls and Parolees and Pit Boss. I did some research on the matter. Still, I was unable to wrap my head around justifying my need for a canine assistant.
My husband suffered traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident in the summer of 2010, which I blogged about. My husband, my caregiver, seemed like he would never be my caregiver again. I also began thinking that perhaps he would be the one needing a service dog, or maybe we would both have to have one. Thankfully his recovery has been tremendous. It was this incident that pushed my research into having a service dog into full swing, though.
One afternoon I was crocheting and watching Dogs 101 on Animal Planet. Admittedly, I wasn't paying close attention to the show. Until I heard the narrator talking about Gunnar the Chihuahua who is a service dog to his owner who has a neurological condition. Gunnar is able to detect his owner's symptoms and alert her before something happens! Well, that seemed really handy. But, a chihuahua??
It turns out that chihuahuas are the best dogs for the type of service dog known as Medical Alert dogs. Chihuahuas are extremely smart and trainable, when the training is done early, and become very attached to their person. As such, they become sensitive to changes in their person's behavior and are very in tuned to something going wrong. A Medical Alert Service Dog is specifically trained to help mitigate an individual's medical disability. These dogs "alert" their handlers to conditions before they occur. For example, service dogs partnered with diabetic persons may be trained to detect when the handler's blood sugar becomes too high or low. In addition to this training, medical alert dogs are also often trained skills to help in their handlers' symptoms, such as bringing medications or a telephone, providing bracing and other mobility assistance, or any other number of tasks.
So when my aunt shared pictures of her dog's litter of chihuahua puppies, I jumped at the chance to get one. I picked the runt of the litter of four boys, simply because I have a soft spot for the runts, and gave him the name "Eli". I began gathering information on service dog laws and training, and ordered some of the necessary materials I would need to start with.
On April 14, 2011, Eli came home. An eight-week old tiny bundle of loveableness, pretty hard to imagine as a "service dog".