The number 13 is a lucky number in my family! And so, with that, I am writing a heartfelt, emotional post on how Jae has impacted my life in the few months that I've had him. Thank you, Indiana Canine Assistant Network, for my sweet, sweet boy!
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in June 2009. Never in a million years did I see a service dog as part of my future. A cane or wheelchair? Yes, of course. But not a service dog. I had absolutely no idea that a service dog would be able to assist me in my daily life. As my disease progressed, mobility became a greater issue, and fatigue even more so. In summer of 2015, my health took a turn that wasn't much fun, and my husband asked me if a service dog could be of benefit? I had no idea. I began my search, and stumbled on this program called "ICAN." To make a long story short, I applied for the program, had an interview, made it on the wait list the end of August, 2015. I was ready to settle down for that 2-4 yr wait. You can imagine my shock when roughly 6 weeks after being placed on the wait-list, I was invited for a 'matching,' and then team training.
**I was completely, and utterly overcome with joy.**
During team training, I shared with the other members who were also receiving a service dog, that receiving a service dog is a double-edged sword. On one hand, how amazingly exciting to begin this journey! Having a service dog, like Jaeger, will allow me to be more independent, assist with my balance, have someone get those pesky things I drop, and help me conserve energy that I can thankfully spend with my daughter, Sami. But during this exciting journey of applying for the program, interviewing, home visiting, and matching, I kept pushing that other side of that sword away, until I could no longer hide from it. Getting a service dog also means, for me, that my disease has progressed. I need assistance now. I don't want to need assistance. I want the old me back.
In sharing that idea with new friends I met during 'team training,' Allison and Joey, we discussed the process of grieving our old selves. For some, it is grieving the "self" that an accident took. For others, an illness. For me, it is an illness that has robbed me of an athletic 'self' whom my daughter will never see. Grieving that loss of an old self is completely natural and normal. It is by no means fun, and unfortunately it is something that we have to work through individually. My friend Joey said something to me that just warmed my heart, and was something that I needed to hear. She shared that in a conversation with her nephew, he was upset due to how Joey's illness had progressed. He was crying and said that he 'wanted the old Joey back.' This was a bit surprising to Joey, and she calmed him by explaining that, "The new me is better than the old me." She was different, but better!
**"The new me is better than the old me."**
If we reflect on the reasons why those of us received these service angels, I hope that each of us touched by ICAN, can see how the new 'you' is better than the old 'you.' My new me is invested in the MS community, how we can help parents with MS be the best parents they can be, access services needed to live successful lives, and to parent their children to the best of their abilities. I am also an advocate for ICAN. My new me, although not as athletic, is still able to share my humor with my daughter; model perseverance through times of challenge, and let me just say my favorite part is – I can love her just as much, if not more, than the old me could ever imagine.
Since bringing Jaeger home, I have noticed changes. I no longer sit at home, waiting for someone to go with me to specific locations. I actually exercise a little more, because I have someone to help me walk (YAY for JAE!). My spirits have been lifted. I am much more engaged in the community now. Ever the educator, I feel strongly that young people need to be educated on service dog awareness, and how to behave around service dogs. I am not fearful of the grocery store as I have the most handsome pup to help me get things I need. The worry of falling while walking across campus or during a lecture is gone (I am a professor at Western Kentucky University). Yes, Jaeger helps me with the things like mobility, picking up what I drop…but it's more than that. It's independence. It's strength. All of those things I had lost, were returned to me, packaged in the body of a pup named Jaeger.
I cannot begin to express my thanks to all of the people who were parts of each service dogs' lives. The ICAN staff, trainers, furloughers, the male offenders, and especially, the women of the Indiana Women's Prison ICAN program. I am thankful, especially, to these ladies. To Sonya, Jaegers primary handler, I am incredibly grateful and thankful for the magic you have worked with Jaeger, in preparing him for me. I never in a million years expected the bond and love that has developed between Jaeger and I. To all of the handlers, including Sonya, your training, dedication, and time is evident, and I don't believe you will ever truly understand the depths of my heartfelt thanks. Jaeger will help me to not only live, but also thrive and find the independence that I lost, and feel safe and comforted in my daily routines.
**For that, I am eternally grateful.**
written by Darbi Haynes-Lawrence