“Do you know what you need? You need a service dog.”
That was how my husband proposed the idea after I began battling with severe vertigo and had passed out a few times. I had seen several doctors but we still didn’t have an explanation for the new bizarre symptoms that were honestly ruining my life. That wasn’t even my only health issue. I also had been spiking chronic low-grade fevers. I had issues with a butterfly rash across my face, joint pain, exhaustion, a stomach disorder, a kidney disease, blood pressure problems that I had never dealt with before, and ocular migraines where I would suddenly lose my vision.
I couldn’t figure out how to handle everything or where to go next. My quality of life was greatly diminished and the issues with my body would easily wreck the kind of havoc that made every-day tasks nearly impossible… especially when things hit me at once. I could go a couple of weeks feeling amazing when out of left field I would be knocked on my behind for a month or two… or longer. I once lost my vision while I was in the middle of driving. I never saw the semi that was barreling down the highway towards my car. It happened so fast that Nikolai and I were almost taken out of this life for good. Something had to change. Anything! I was desperate.
Still… a service dog? Dogs like that are expensive right? Was I “sick enough” to have one? What did “sick enough” even mean? Was there a person behind the scenes who would qualify sick people for service dogs? What would people think of me for having to rely on a dog to make me a more functional person? The questions swirled around in my brain until it made me feel that much worse. I decided to do the only thing that make sense to me… I sat at a booth hunched over my keyboard inside our local coffee shop and I googled the heck out of it.
I learned that the only one who could approve my service dog request was my physician. I also came to the realization that people used service dogs to do all kinds of things, from helping with PTSD, to managing anxiety, and other health problems as well. Yet the biggest thing I discovered was that I was over qualified.
Incapable of preforming daily tasks due to a disability or illness?
Hospital visits that are frequent?
Official diagnoses on my medical records?
Check. Check. Check. Check. Check!
I read that owning and training your own dog with the help of a professional trainer was the fastest way to obtain such an animal. Otherwise, you might be sitting on a wait list for a couple of years or more. It takes a minimum of two years to train a service dog and you need to be committed to the endeavor or you both will fail. It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things that you’ll ever do. Finding the right kind of dog would be a whole other mountain to hike. Temperament testing the dog’s personality for service dog traits and willingness to learn was just the beginning. Even that wouldn’t guarantee success. Dogs have a high rate of flunking out of service work.
Most people don’t have family who raise purebreds at their disposal. Most don’t have an army of people in their corner who have physically seen them suffer over the years either. I was blessed enough to have both. My grandparents had been raising Rough Coat Collies for well over fifty years. They came from a long line of calm, quiet, and gentle dogs. On top of that, my grandmother’s adopted daughter Isabell had worked for a neighbor who raised search and rescue German Shepherds, police dogs, and yes… even service dogs!
My mind was made up. I needed a service dog and with my doctor’s approval in hand… I knew exactly where to get one. I picked up my cellphone and called my grandmother. From that moment on, my life was forever changed by the most amazing dog my family and I have ever known. The events of her birth and that of her siblings are of such epic proportions that you almost had to be there to believe it.
“I’m not positive, but in my gut, I think that Bambi is pregnant!”
“How do you know Grandma?!”
“Well, I don’t know for sure… but I feel it.”
A week before easter my grandmother had felt that Bambi (Isabell’s German Shepherd) had been filling out her naturally lean frame. Bambi had connected multiple times with my grandfather’s dog Sampson, which was within itself rather miraculous. You see, Sampson was an old man for a purebred Collie. Even though my grandfather had passed away years earlier… Sampson (who was the last generations of purebred collies on my grandparent’s farm), was still very much alive.
We had wanted and loved these puppies before they were born. It was the end of an era for my grandparents but the beginning of an era for me because one of the babies was going to be my service dog. I spent many nights lying awake and praying for a pregnancy to take place. Begging God to provide the kind of dog who would help me become a more functional person for my family. It wasn’t a cure, but I needed to be more confident in my abilities to manage my household and health on my own while my husband was away for work.
The day before easter I was sprawled out in bed with my husband by my side and my 6-year-old son’s foot in my face. Nikolai had crawled into bed with us and spent the night kicking me in the head. It was a beautiful Saturday, there was a periwinkle hue over the mountain peaks and the fireball in the sky was just beginning to show off. It was going to be a lovely, relaxing weekend… until my phone rang.
“You’re aren’t going to believe this! You just aren’t going to believe it!” My grandmother’s voice was lively and animated.
I yawned, stretched my legs out before me and mumbled sleepily “What time is it? Why are you up so early?”
“SHE DID IT! WE HAVE PUPPIES!”
I flew to a fully awake sitting position among piles of blankets and maneuvered the limbs of my family away from me. “What do you mean? How?! Last week you weren’t even sure if she was pregnant and now, we have puppies? WE HAVE PUPPIES!”
I squealed and my body shook with excitement “I HAVE A SERVICE DOG IN TRAINING!!”
Had I stuck to the typical service dog rules… it may have made my life easier. Rules such as, “not choosing a puppy until you have them professionally evaluated first” are important to a higher success rate. My wonderful trainer lived in Georgia with me and these puppies were located in Arizona with my family. I decided to trust God and do my best to evaluate them myself through facetime. I don’t recommend doing what I did, but if I had done things any differently… than this would be a different story. Tallulah wasn’t the right dog but she was right for me.
Bambi had her babies in a field, choosing to hide them rather than be cozy and warm inside the house. My mom and my grandmother saw blood and found a hole that she dug to hide them in. The first two (and the oldest) puppies never made it into the foxhole. Their bodies were discovered lifeless several feet away. My mom ran her hands over them, rubbing the puppies with all her might. She breathed life into their mouths and gave them CPR to revive them.
One of the two puppies yelped and began rooting but struggled to latch or eat. The other laid limply underneath my mother’s hands. She called me with tears pouring down her face and I listened to her voice quiver as she whispered a prayer over the tiny animal’s body. Hours went by and she continued begging the fellow to live until his body became cold to the touch, stiff, and ridged. There were no more soft sounds from a beating heart. No shallow breaths being taken. He was gently set aside in the dumpster behind the house so that the other dogs couldn’t take him away before she had a chance to bury him. She devoted the rest of her time to encouraging the puppy who didn’t want to eat, to nurse.
Tallulah was found with one of her brothers in the hole her mom dug out of the earth to save them. The moment I saw her picture on my cellphone… I knew that she was mine. It was as if God took the extra time to write my name on her. She was the only puppy born with a large black letter “L” marking on her back… a characteristic trait that she eventually grew out of. Yet she had been written into existence especially for me. Her marking was a beacon of light within the whirlwind of darkness that my health had plunged me into once again.
After a long day, my exhausted mother had to dispose of the dirty towels and blankets from Bambi’s birthing room and move them into the dumpster. She had helped Bambi’s babies to nurse and even delivered a few more puppies along the way. The sky was fading from blue to silver and the stars were making a dashing appearance of their own. It was almost time to bury the body of the first born. The closer she got to the trash can the louder a scuffle from within became. Twelve or more hours had passed and there had been no sign of life or a will to live. Yet she lifted the lid and there he was! A living, breathing, wiggling miracle searching for his mother. That’s how “Lazarus” changed my mom’s life. A puppy that was completely dead came back to life with nothing more than faith and a prayer… the day before Easter.
My own prayed for puppy, has rescued my life countless times. She has warned me when it wasn’t safe for me to be driving. She has told me when my blood pressure became dangerously high. She helped chase an intruder out of my house and away from my son. She’s watched over my baby as if he were her own. I’ve seen her soothe Nikolai on sick days, and giggled to myself over the joy of her bubblegum pink tongue kissing away his sadness until laughter was all he had left. She has put herself between me and those she didn’t trust on multiple occasions and I’ve learned that she’s the best judge of character that I have ever meet.
There were moments within this amazing first year together when I thought that she wouldn’t make it as a service dog. We have been through trials that I never saw coming. Yet between my wonderful trainer’s advice (thank you Sharon!) and Tallulah’s desire to learn, my relationship with this incredible dog has only strengthened. She has saved me again and again. I owe her my life.