Unfortunately, I missed my deadline six weeks ago for my last column. I blame it on writer’s block brought on primarily by our vacation that we were excited to get started. Our vacation had been planned for almost a year.
We were heading for Boston to go to the National Little People of America Conference. This conference is held every year over the week of July 4 and is in a different city every year. As soon as we saw that it would be in Boston in 2016, we were excited to attend. I love learning about U.S. history, so naturally Boston was a great place to go.
We have been member of LPA for about 20 years, shortly after our youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism. LPA offers a lot of help to “little people” throughout their lives. There are many local meetings help all over the country, but this annual national meeting is always huge! There are usually somewhere around 2,500 attendees. The conference draws people from all over the world.
There are many things going on at these conferences. Throughout the conference, there are workshops to help with medical, social, legal and educational issues that confront those with dwarfism. We attended one of these workshops that discussed service dogs. I have always been amazed at the things service dogs can be relied on to perform. These dogs can be trained to aid people with all kinds of mobility issues, visual impairment, hearing impairment, autism, anxiety issues, PTSD, depression, and bipolar/mood disorders.
I am even more amazed with the dogs trained to aid people with a variety of seizure disorders and diabetes. These dogs are trained to recognize signs of impending problems even before their handler knows there is a problem. The human/animal bond can be incredibly intense, but never more than occurs between these trained service dogs and those they watch over.
At the workshop we attended, there was someone with a service dog who related what her dog was able to do for her. She was in a motorized scooter to get around and like almost all people with dwarfism, she had a variety of musculoskeletal issues affecting mobility. Her service dog was trained to help her get dressed, open doors for her, retrieve things off the ground, and many more tasks. It was incredible watching her dog “working” with her. Her dog was always intently watching her waiting for the next task that was needed. It was obviously a full-time job that this dog thoroughly enjoyed doing.
She had only had a service dog for the last couple of years. She regretted not getting one much earlier. Although all of these tasks her dog helps with are great, she relayed another unexpected benefit of having a service dog that really surprised her. She had spent many years feeling often very small. Not because she was short in stature, but because she went through life often being overlooked everywhere she went. Because she was different, it was very rare for anyone to go out of their way to interact with her when out in public. The day she received her service dog, everything changed in an instant! She often felt like the center of attention out in public as children and other complete strangers would come up to her and the dog and start talking to her. It was somewhat overwhelming at first, but she had grown to really enjoy not feeling invisible anymore.
Our daughter is heading back to college this week to start her sophomore year. This year she decided to live in an apartment off campus. In spite of her dwarfism and many leg surgeries through the years, she has very minimal mobility issues. However, she does have a hearing impairment. She can hear pretty well with her left ear with the help of a hearing aid, but at night she takes it out to sleep and we worry about her being able to hear a fire/smoke alarm, alarm clock and someone at the door. A service dog would be a big help for her and make us more comfortable while she is away at school. We pick Aida up next week and training will start right away.
Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for the last 19 years and sees dogs, cats, ferrets and other furry critters.