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The Service Dog That Will Change My Life With Chronic Illness

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In the beginning of April, a major life change is happening to me, and my life will never be the same.

On April 7, I will graduate with a lab-dane mix service dog, who will come home with me and be by my side at home, with my friends, on errands, at work, and eventually when I go to college.

It was my grandmother who sparked the idea to my mom about getting a service dog, due to my complicated diagnoses of chronic Lyme disease, autoimmune encephalitis/PANDAS, seizures, and more. My mom completely agreed with the idea, but we weren’t even sure if a service dog would be helpful to me or if I would even be a candidate to receive one. We had no idea.

After a bit of research, we came upon ECAD, Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities. This was the summer of 2016, and quickly after looking up a lot about service dogs and the organization, I filled out my initial application in the summer and was interviewed during the same summer. After more paperwork and documentation, I received the amazing news that I would receive a service dog through this nonprofit organization and had to fundraise thousands of dollars. People were so generous towards the cause.

This dog is going to change my life. He is being specially trained to get my medication bag for me, comfort me during seizures, open doors, turn on and off light switches, and keep my steady if I can’t walk straight. The dogs on average learn about 80 general commands, plus commands to help the individual needs of the client. The two weeks before we graduate, we go through a sleep-away team training program, working with multiple dogs and getting matched with the one best for us. Height, breed, temperament, and other considerations are all put into thought when pairing a dog with a client. 

My service dog will help me live a more independent life. Right now I can’t be left alone.

My service dog will help me in crowded areas where I need him to “cover” (go behind me) giving me more personal space. This was typically a skill used to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but during my interview we realized that since the simple action of someone touching my back causes a bad atonic (drop) seizure, that the dogs could be trained to stand behind me. For years I’ve constantly been looking over my shoulders or having my back to a wall or object to avoid this seizure trigger.

My dog will help me be able to see my friends and have a lifeline I can rely on without always being with my mom for everything. This will be great for college.

My dog will be able to bring me things when I’m too sick to get them myself, and we can continue to train him more commands after he’s graduated to help me as my needs change.

My dog will be able to do things for me that I don’t even know about!

I am so incredibly thankful to be spending two weeks training with the service dogs, and I know my dog will be the best dog ever. I never expected this to be something I needed or to happen so quickly, but I think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family. We will now have two dogs! 

If you’re interested in seeing my future service dog and keeping up with videos and updates, you can follow my Facebook page Fight Lyme for Life, Instagram @chronicallycassidy, and YouTube Chronically Cassidy. All pages will be exploding with service dog pictures of me and my new best friend, updates, and more!

I am so thankful to ECAD and everyone who supported me to allow this dream to come true. Life is going to be better!

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Thinkstock photo by mauinow1

Originally published: April 4, 2017
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