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To Everybody Who Trained My Service Dog

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Dear everybody who trained my service dog,

Over the past four years you have put tireless hours into raising a puppy who will become my service dog in just a few short weeks. As if that is not enough, you give the dogs away for free. Being a college student raised by a single mom, I could never afford a service dog, but that does not mean that I don’t desperately need the help.

Your organization truly helps people who are often ignored by society. I don’t have much, so all I can do is say thank you over and over again — but that will never be enough to actually convey what I am feeling. Everybody who had a role in training any dog in this program is my hero. Not even six months ago, they were are all strangers to me. Little did I know they existed and wanted more than anything to change somebody’s life. From the bottom of my heart, I can say you have done that. This dog is going to be my whole world.

I am affected by Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, polysplenia syndrome, half a leaky heart on the right side of my chest, severe scoliosis and lordosis, mixed cerebral palsy and more. I was born with these conditions, and for the most part have managed to come to terms with them because there has been no other option. I am proud of who I am, but that does not mean the rest of society is. I have definitely had my struggles. I have a twin who is “normal” and at each step of my life I have watched her go do everything I have always dreamt of being able to do.

Over the past two years, my medical conditions have gotten much worse. I have been in and out of the hospital and emergency room. I am constantly dizzy and fall frequently. I cannot walk up an incline, because despite our best efforts my oxygen remains low. All my joints are hypermobile. While to an outsider that might seem cool or interesting, it means I am in constant pain and must modify every activity I do to try to preserve my joints for as long as possible. I don’t eat salt, dairy, or gluten in hopes that my abdominal pain will improve. The biggest difficulty is that none of the conditions can be treated because it will interfere with another condition.

Doctors have told me that as far as treatments go, I am out of options — or was until you came into my life. I’m afraid to leave the house in case I get dizzy. If I fall, I am likely to dislocate. While I am in school, the last few years I stay in my room or bed except for going to class.
Although I have all these medical conditions, I appear healthy and “normal” to an outsider. I have been called a liar, I have been yelled at for using my disability placard, I have been asked to prove my flexibility by doing a yoga pose or dislocating my shoulder. Both of these things are extremely painful.

I was so afraid I would apply for a service dog and not qualify for one because my disabilities are invisible. That did not happen. Everybody who worked with me was so respectful and kind. I was treated as a person instead of a disability or a liar. Sadly, this was a new experience. I was never asked to share my story for sympathy or prove I was disabled.

I have laid awake at night many times wondering about my future. Will I ever be able to live alone? Will I get through college? Will I get a job? Is there any place that will accept me as I am, and potentially even embrace my disabilities as an asset instead of a liability? I can finally say I found that place. Before starting this process, I did not want to do anything because I thought I would always need to have somebody with me. I had given up on planning my future. It is hard to rely on other people all the time; you begin to feel like a burden instead of a friend or family member. This has now all changed. Thanks to you, I will have the help I so desperately need.

I now see my future as bright. I will be able to leave my house. I can go on vacation. I will have help getting to my classes and picking things up when bending over makes me dizzy and lightheaded.

So again, to everybody who trained my service dog, you are my heroes. Thank you for my life back. Thank you for giving me a bright future. Thank you for showing me that somebody cares. I will be forever grateful for all you have done, and I just hope I can pay you back by educating people about service dogs and embracing your generosity by living my life to the fullest.

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Originally published: February 16, 2017
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