Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In The Beginning...

What expectations do you have for a Service Dog? It's hard to say, because I'm not sure what all the dogs are trained to do--(see next question)

Are there special skills you want the dog to have? Help pick up dropped articles, maybe help pull the chair, help carry things if my hands are full of articles, help with doors---

How well I remember those words on my Service Dog application from Kansas Specialty Dog Service! Living with a neuromuscular disease, and the accompanying wheelchair, and other assistive tools, the thought of applying for canine assistance hadn't really crossed my mind until the summer of '94.

I was at a dog show in Lincoln, NE. Among the booths vending various dog products and breed information, there was one from Kansas Specialty Dog Service. Besides the brochures and newsletters, there was a darling little black Lab, about 5 months old, soundly sleeping in his little gray and blue Puppy-In-Training cape. I was told that since I'm in a wheelchair, I could possibly qualify for an assistance dog. My knowledge of what Service Dogs could do was sketchy, at best. But the idea seed for getting a dog to help me was planted.

Later that summer, I was injured in an auto accident, which made a difference in terms of pushing my wheelchair. So the idea of having a Service Dog to help me maintain an independent lifestyle flourished.

I requested information from several organizations. The California-based Canine Companions for Independence was the best-known, but by no means the only service dog provider organization. Each one had a waiting list, some as long as five or eight years! Some of the organizations requested applicants raise the money to pay for their dog, while others provided the dog free. There was also the matter of going for the training itself. Did I really want to train as far away as Ohio, or California, assuming I'd be accepted at CCI? Or in St. Louis, Missouri with Support Dogs?

I thought of that black Lab puppy, and pulled out my KSDS brochure. Washington, Kansas was a lot closer than St. Louis, or Ohio! And a 12-to-18-month wait for a dog from KSDS sounded better to me than five years. Their service dogs are provided free to the individual, with the person footing the cost for his/her transportation, evening meals, and lodging at a motel within one block of the facility. So, I sent in my application, and was put on the KSDS mailing list while waiting for my name to come up in their file.

Since my name was on their waiting list for a dog, I began receiving the KSDS newsletter, The Pathway. I eagerly read each newsletter with great interest. Any time I found a story about a person who had an assistance dog, I would try to get in touch, and ask about what having a canine assistant was like. Even with my rapidly-growing collection of information, none of it fully prepared me for what I was getting into.

KSDS founder Bill Acree was always fond of saying, "Getting a service dog is a process, not an event!" I discovered he was right as everything began to unfold.
©2008 SKC


Lisa and Ellie said...

WOW - it's so neat to hear about graduates and their experiences. Also very neat how you got to find out about KSDS. Can't wait to hear more adventures!

Skoozot said...

Thanks Lisa & Ellie. There are sure a *lot* of adventures to tell!
Stay tuned!