When I got the call that this young woman had passed, I can't even describe how I felt, so I won't even try. It pales in comparison to what her family went through but the funny thing is, they were more concerned about us. You see, their greatest fear had happened, now they feared for us. I am still amazed by that. I am not so sure I would have been so self-absorbed in my own grief that I could be compassionate towards others. I learned more about humanity in the last five years since diagnosis, than I ever have in my entire life.
Along with these lessons, I developed new fears. When you add new fears to already existing mental disorders, you have a real problem that starts to spiral out of control. You need to take action, or frankly, you lose your shit.
Long story short, you can go to Stop D.A.D Scams (site pulled because of legal case) and see for yourself what happened. You want a real Lifetime in the making movie? Go to that website. Tails (ha!) of runaway service dogs, dogs stolen by trainers, lawsuits for speaking out against the company, being forced to delete those who were kicked out of the program or returned dogs, gag orders, a major lawsuit against a single mom of multiple children with special needs who is kicking ass Erin Brokovich style, a dog that was sold as a service dog that had Crohn's Disease and returned without a refund and has now been sold for another $20,000, stories of courageous parents of children with life threatening illnesses going up against lawyers, adults who live with life threatening diseases who filed reports that added up to more than 20 that are currently under review by the Attorney General of Virginia and multiple other states, a head trainer who was involved in a hazing incident where a police K-9 was jerked off, and a story of this mom who is writing right now under the threat of legal action. Whew.
8/24/13 Update: 11 families are currently being sued by Warren Retrievers and they are trying to repossess the service dogs that they put with these families. I was also sent an agreement settlement, which would change the venue to their home state and would make us liable for attorney fees, even if they lost. If I were to say anything other than "our issues have been resolved" I would have to pay a fine of $500. Several families have signed these letters under threat of having their dog repossessed. I am not one of them.
In spite of (you know I live by that phrase) what has happened, I can tell you it was an amazing learning experience and journey. I met some of my closest friends, lost my best friend and reunited after an entire year of no contact with each other, learned how to stand up for my rights and against immorality, strengthened my marriage with my husband as we learned to stick together and weather this all when there were tears and just plain shame. I also met other families traveling their own paths through this turmoil. Some had sick dogs, some have dogs that do not alert at all, some have had dogs taken away from them and some have had dogs run away. In fact, there is one missing right now. You can follow their story Help Us Find Buckshot and possibly help if you live near them in North Carolina. A 4 yr old little boy is sorely missing his dog.
This brings us to our dog. He is my heart <3
Our dog, thank God, is an amazing natural talent. We feel blessed and maybe a little guilty about that. We were able to train his natural stress responses to blood sugar smells, into a final trained alert. He paws for highs and nose nudges for lows. Ok, he sometimes paws for lows too, but only when I am not paying attention.
He did have a major issue though. He hated other dogs. I mean he would want to eat them. He was put on a prong collar starting at 7 weeks old, something even prong collar experts are opposed to, and I have since learned that he was not raised in a cozy home environment and bottle fed like we were told.
He had a rough start but he has overcome so much under the training of a local man, who stepped in after Warren accused us of breaching contract when we refused the head trainer from coming to our home instead of the trainer who was already planning to see us the very next day.
Perseus had to overcome his social anxiety against all odds, just like I have to do. I relate a lot to him, I really do. He honestly had no business being a service dog. I probably had no business being a wife and a mother at the times I took those roles on either.
"BUT, IN SPITE OF"
Our service dog is almost finished with his training. He is learning that other dogs can be friends. he is learning that he is not in charge and he has to obey his leader by becoming a follower, a helpmate. He is keeping his girl safe by learning to trust her and by his girl learning to trust him.
I am learning to deal with my PTSD and I am learning to stop being a follower and become a leader. I have made such progress and I really am in awe of what I have accomplished.
You see, five years ago, I couldn't even drive. I couldn't even sit in the driver's seat without having a panic attack. In order to become the mother and wife I wanted to be, I had to do things that were not so easy. Now, I can drive my kids to doctor's appointments and to stores. I can take the dog to most training sessions depending on location and we can keep him sharp by practicing public access often. His training forced me to keep going into new places. We helped each other in this perfect union of imperfection and personal triumphs.
Recently, my daughter and her dog became a team, as she stepped into the role of handler. As thrilled and proud of them that I am, I started feeling lost and afraid. I wasn't sure what was going on at first, but then realized it after having some terrible anxiety issues again. When you train a service dog, you have to be aware of every move they make while at home and in public. Every action that they perform and the way that you handle it, will have a future consequence that you will have to either reteach, or it might possibly wash them out of service for good. It is a huge undertaking and it takes focus.
My focus for the past year and a half has not been on my own emotions and anxiety as much as it usually was. I did not have time to think of how I was feeling. I had to think of keeping my own emotions in check so that I could portray myself as a competent and confident pack leader. Holy Shit.
Even when our service dog was almost fully trained and still in my leadership, I felt confident with him and safe. it was a feeling I needed for a long time to continue growing. Our dog and my new medication was helping me exceed my own expectations of what was possible. Everytime I leave my home, it is hard and each time I do it, it doesn't make it any easier for future outings. It is square one each facking time.
I had met some other amazing dogs, handlers and trainers along the way, since we were booted out of the other program. Each one of them have impacted my life in an extraordinary way. In ways, I could never for-see. How amazing that the organization (TADSHAW) that stepped in to rescue us happens to specialize in PTSD dogs? How amazing is it that I volunteered to foster a beautiful flea-ridden puppy that was temperament tested and passed with flying colors because I went out on a limb and had our service dog trainer conduct it, since he was here anyway?
How amazing is it that I am receiving help with vet bills for her and the support of my friends and family?
How amazingly beautiful is this little girl?
I want you to meet my "In Spite Of." In spite of her rough start in life, her fleas and her worms that will be history soon, and her living outside because she was abandoned, she will now be loved and be a Service Dog In Training. There are no guarantees with any dog that they will ever make it to a fully trained service dog, but you know what? I am going to give her the chance. We tend not to give up on people or things around here ;)
|Perseus and my daughter|
|Me and My Eponine|
|Eponine and my Friend. He would not let us give up when Perseus seemed impossible to train. You are an angel. Thank you, friend.|
Special thank you to Gary Webb. The trainer who I learned to trust despite being burned so many times. I know we can get this little girl trained just like her big brother, Perseus.
More special thanks to the families and other experts in the field that I would name but would get their asses sued ;) I love you.
Last, but not least, thanks to my friends and family that have helped me grow to maybe enjoy hugging more than I let on <3
ps. I had to just get this all out. Ignore the typos and grammar, cool?