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How My Service Dog Changed My Life

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In November 2009, I was matched with my service dog, Maggie, trained by NEADS. I had waited for 8-and-a-half months when the call came and then reported for my two weeks of training with her in Princeton, MA. We then moved home together onto our family farm.

Just six days later, she saved my life by jumping onto my hospital bed, realizing I was no longer breathing, despite a bi-pap machine. She nudged me to reposition me, to allow the return of airflow. She was not trained to do this but had bonded during our training and was committed to helping me any way she could. From then on, she would even lay at the end of the pool and monitor my oxygen levels and alert me to get out when the levels dropped too low.

Maggie watches Ellen swinging in the pool.

Maggie, my husband Stu, and I went through a lot during those years together. Just two months after coming home with her, we all flew to WI for one of many surgeries. They allowed her to stay with me even in the holding room and then if not in the ICU, she was allowed to stay in the room with me. West Allis Hospital, WI, even decided to set up a volunteer list of people to help take her outside for the bathroom and walk. And when I was able to sit in a wheelchair to take over her care, they provided me with an electric wheelchair they rented for me to use. We spent time in WI, NY, MA and RI hospitals together.

Maggie did so much to help me from opening the powered doors, picking up items on the floor, opening the refrigerator on command, bringing the phone when needed, barking on command to alert my husband out on the farm that I needed his help, alerting me when she could sense I needed to go slow with lower oxygen levels by staring me in the eyes and licking my legs. And every morning, she would check me out by licking my hands to evaluate me. The list of her chores goes on and on.

Maggie was by our side every day and everywhere. She laid by my feet on the plane, trains, taxis and bus rides. She came to the statehouse for long nights to wait to testify when advocating, attended rallies, speaking engagements, conferences I spoke at, was by my side speaking at the FDA, D.C. press conference, and even joined us for a White House tour. Everywhere we went, Maggie was by my side.

Maggie with Ellen in the hospital.


But time began to take a toll on her. My black lab, who developed white fur from the 25 surgeries we shared together, in time began to show signs of slowing down. Watching the normal changes of aging became worrisome and heartbreaking. In time, we started to notice changes in her energy, walking, and responses to help. I knew we were getting closer to her closure of life and made the decision to apply for a new service dog to eventually take over her work.

With that process in place, as I waited for another match, I wondered how I could bring a newly trained match. So Maggie solved that concern for me — she aged to the point of not remembering how to get off the bed, how to give me my shoes, and could barely enjoy even going out for a walk. She showed us she had done her work of love and service and was ready for her time for peace.

It was the hardest decision to have to make, but as we grieve and learn to live our lives without her physically here with us, I am following the words below to use as my motto to gain strength that I can live life honoring her:

These are Maggie’s words in my head to live by — taken from the song, “Fathers and Daughters” with the addition of my own words added at the end:

If I could catch a star for you, I swear I’d steal them all tonight
To make your every wish come true, your every dream for all your life
But that’s not how the story goes, the world is full of perfect plans

When times are hard, I know you’ll be strong, I’ll be there in your heart
And you’ll carry on
Like moonlight on the water, and sunlight in the sky,
“Service dogs and partners, never say goodbye” (words changed for Maggie)

Life goes on and somehow I will continue to try to honor her wishes for me to remain strong, always feel her love and commitment to me and remember she gave me my life back. So that is my goal, Maggie — to keep living and honor you.

I love you, miss you, and thank you for all you have done for me.

Ellen holds elderly Maggie.

Originally published: February 3, 2021
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