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I feel like I can fly when I stand next to you…

Can I take a minute to be mildly serious? Sure? You guys are the best gentle readers, seriously.

So anyway I was reading Dog Is My Co-Pilot, which is a collection of essays by Dog People and Speedy Paper of various types, and one of the authors made a comment about being a service dog handler — said it was “humbling in the best possible way.” And you know, nobody elected me Spokesperson For All Handlers Everywhere; for one thing if they were electing a spokesperson they probably would not want someone who has a tendency to swear like a sailor (hey, I was one!) when she gets frustrated. Also probably someone not quite so covered in dog and cat hair, with the odd bit of chicken fluff stuck to her. Spokespeople are supposed to look respectable, after all.

But I digress. I read that bit, and I thought, “I wonder if this person is a service dog handler.” I mean, I don’t know. Maybe she is, and that is how she experiences her relationship with her working dog. Maybe she has friends who are handlers, who have expressed to her that they experience their relationship with their service dogs. Like I said, I don’t know — not about her disability status or her SD handler status or any of it.

What I do know is that in terms of my relationship with my service dog, she got it totally wrong in every conceivable way.

Let me tell you a little bit about my disability, so you have the background. I have chronic pain and balance issues, which looks short and simple there on the page. The reality is, you know that one time? When you did a LOT of physical labor maybe, or took your workout a lot farther than you were ready for, or your first week or so in boot camp? Remember not that evening, but the next day, when you woke up and tried to get out of bed and every muscle in your body screamed a protest and it took you forever to be able to move without screaming/crying/swearing a lot (according to your particular temperament)? That’s what the phrase “chronic pain” covers. That day. Only it’s every day. The balance issues are like being out to sea again with the Navy, underway at about 25 knots at sea state 4. For those of you who have never been stationed on a destroyer, it may help if I tell you that when we first started having the earthquake last week, I thought it was me.

When I use a cane to compensate for the balance issues, I feel as if I’m creeping along, feeling my way through a world that is not steady. I have to tilt myself toward the cane, lest I wobble away from it. I can gimp along at a pretty respectable speed, but I’m always kind of watching where my feet are going.

When I’m with Sid, I can fly. We become, on the best days, a strange six-legged beast with one working vestibular system between us. He’s still young, still learning, but generally sharp as a tack. I can walk upright, because when I wobble toward him he moves closer to get under me, and when I wobble away, he moves out to pull me back into straight. He watches our feet so I don’t have to, so I am head up and walking tall through the world.[1] My posture is actually better, working with Sid, than it is with a cane or ever was walking on just my own feet. He provides a dose of momentum, something for me to brace against, which obscurely makes it easier to walk.

And, of course, he is my ever-present partner in crime. We share a laugh in a look, we have small disagreements[4], we discuss the route to take and say thank you to each other. We like to sit in the sunshine and people-watch. When I am having horrible vertigo and sitting down, he will obligingly lay his front end across my lap, steadying me. He gives me beautiful smiles as we walk together, partners together in the world. We are joyful about the fact that we’re together, we have each other, him watching out for me and me making sure that we don’t cross pavement that will burn his paws and that doors don’t shut on his tail.

I am not humbled by working with Sid. Instead, I am freed by it — I go fast! I walk at speeds I walked at back before all the pain and the vertigo, and I do it safely and without fear of falling. It is joyful and joyous and liberating and far, far from humbling me — it lifts me up.

[1] This is not infallible. Today at Walmart he walked me into a 5 gallon bucket. Twice. He took me around it each time on the reattempt, but still. I suspect it was revenge-motivated because I would not let him steal the “Caution Wet Floor” sign on our way in[2]. Today was not, as you might have gathered, our best day.

[2] Yes I know it probably wasn’t. But it’s funnier that way. Bear with me. I did let him “steal” a toy from PetCo later to make up for my cruelty at Walmart, mostly because I am trying to get him accustomed to carrying things in his mouth while in harness so he can carry my gun.[3]

[3] I’m kidding. And I’ll stop footnoting now.

[4] I lied about the footnoting thing. There was this one time when we went to a wine tasting with Daniel and Daniel’s sister R. I tasted eleven wines and two flavors of wine slushie, and our pourer was very generous, giving us 1/4 to 1/3 a glass at a time. Coming out, Sid refused to take me the shortest way to the car, which involved walking across grass, and instead stuck to the sidewalk. And then when I asked him to speed up, he gave me a look that loosely translated to “No, you idiot.” Or possibly, “Have you been taking drugs your doctor did NOT prescribe?”

3 thoughts on “I feel like I can fly when I stand next to you…

  1. I’ll admit that it is really nice to see that someone else feels that way about their service dog. I’m rarely ever humbled by my boy, it’s hard to be humbled by a clown… but he’s my partner, my friend, my confidant, and you got it exactly right with He’s my freedom. He’s the freedom that lets me leave the house without an escort and still expect to make it home in one piece. My freedom to trust that someone has my back and doesn’t have their own agenda, even working with a human who Knows me isn’t nearly as freeing If nothing else my dog doesn’t Ever resent having to help me.

    Thanks this was just the reminder I needed after a really long day.

  2. Never stop footnoting. I love you.

  3. I love reading about Sid! I look forward to meeting him someday. You, too, but at least you I get to talk to online. :-)

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