No one is happy to hear that they have a neuro-muscular disease. It can conjure up images of helplessness and hopelessness. My disease, Charcot-Marie-tooth disease is an inherited, progressive disease with no cure, classified as one of the muscular dystrophies. However, I firmly believe that hope can be found, even when the hardest of times brings us to our knees, and we are tempted to give in to discouragement, loneliness and despair. Ernest Hemingway wrote in his great American novel, A Farewell to Arms, "The world breaks everyone, but later, some are stronger at the broken places."
My broken places include legs whose nerves and muscles are dying, hands that are the same, and many joints that do not work properly. Not to mention the accompanying level of pain that follows me everywhere. Also, when you have a disability such as this one, the loneliness can take a toll on your psyche as well. People tend to shy away from you or assume that your mind is as frail as your body. But a part of the "strength at my broken place" in dealing with this disease has been my service dog "Tulsa," who I received through ICAN 8 years ago.
Tulsa is my balance, my helper, my companion and confidant. She serves with joy and loyalty. I am a psychotherapist and Tulsa has been a great co-therapist in the office as well, comforting clients, offering unconditional regard and having an innate sense of what each client needs. She has enabled me to enjoy life and be more independent, healed my broken places and continues to serve faithfully. And when you are accompanied by a service dog, everyone wants to speak to you and you do not feel as isolated! However, Tulsa is now a senior, with a "sugar" face (grizzled) and she is beginning to tire easily and let me know that she is not as eager to go to work some days. (Then again, neither am I eager to go to work some days!)
So I am about to be partnered with my successor dog, Jamie, another wonderful golden retriever. I am looking forward to building a great loving relationship with her as well. I am sure we will work together well in the next several years. Meanwhile Tulsa can stay home and watch doggy soap operas and eat doggy bon-bons. I could never express my gratefulness enough to ICAN and the wonderful work they do. On a side note, I have been a volunteer at the Indiana Women's prison for over 20 years. I was there before ICAN was. I watched the ICAN program come in and marveled at the work they were doing. The trainers have to have a certain level of behavior before they can be dog trainers, they are learning a skill, it is restorative justice, and the dogs change the whole aura of the prison. After all, the inmates need to experience unconditional regard as well. Some of the women who were trainers for the ICAN program that I know are released from prison now, and their experience and training they got through ICAN has helped them get a job outside of prison walls.
I also love that the person receiving the dog has to go to the prison to train with the trainers. There are many misperceptions about what the women behind bars are like. When the public goes into the prison and discovers that most of the women are people just like you and me with a few twists and turns of life and some bad choices, they begin to change their view and this is gratifying to watch the people who are receiving the dogs grow close to their inmate/trainers. Everyone's lives are enriched. After all, ICAN is "changing lives at both ends of the leash!" Thank you ICAN, from the bottom of my heart for all that you do!