Service Dogs Make Dreams Possible! by Carol Willoughby
“I wouldn’t change my life for anything now!” What would inspire a person living with a disability to say this? I've discovered a single powerful answer time and time again--a service dog.
A highly-trained devoted service dog makes all the difference. Each remarkable canine partner can transform differing abilities into possibilities. Service dogs are often trained to fetch everything from a leg brace, to the telephone, to a dropped pencil. Still, the most important thing they can bring their partner is self-confidence. New dreams--even those never considered before--suddenly seem entirely possible.
My own dream began more than fifteen years ago. It started with a simple yet profound question: "How can I bring other adults and children with disabilities the chance to realize their dreams?" Finding an answer became my passion. It was the single most important reason for establishing Saint Francis Service Dogs.
Behind it all was my first service dog, Booker. A privately trained golden retriever, Booker changed my life forever. He restored my confidence while teaching me many important life lessons in the process. As he performed daily tasks that helped to reduce my frustration and conserve my energy, Booker showed me that by working together as a team, anything was possible.
Today, my first-ever Saint Francis Service Dog, Midas, shares this same important message. I was officially introduced to the big fluffy golden boy, with his flouncy tail and perpetual puppy-like grin, in September at the Saint Francis Center. Midas quickly grabbed my heart and reeled me in. His huge black-rimmed eyes remained glued to mine throughout our meeting. He watched me intently even as he lay beneath the table near the feet of his trainer Connie Kniseley. Silently, I prayed fora sign, asking to know if Midas was to be the service dog for me. As I gazed into his luminous shining eyes, I knew.
One month earlier, my thirteen-year-old golden retriever, Griffin, had died of cancer. He was a rescue dog that bounded into my life at the age of eight. Looking at Midas now, with my heart asking . . . “Are you the one?”. . . I felt chills. I recognized a deep, ethereal look in the young dog's eyes. It was the same look my dear Griffin had given me months earlier when we’d had to say our final good- byes. Now, I felt as if my heart knew what Midas seemed to know as well--this partnership was meant to be.
During our partner training, Midas and I worked hard to sharpen our skills. We passed each test in a variety of public settings, just as numerous Saint Francis teams had done before us. And we did it all with the perfect mix of seriousness and humor.
That balance of hard work and laughter makes life much easier and so much more fun as Midas works by my side today. One of his favorite jobs requires him to bump the automated-door button at the mall. Standing upright on his back feet and placing his front paws gently on the wall, my service dog gives the button a swift tap with his nose. Midas always seems especially pleased with his own nose-power as the wide mall doors open immediately for us. Then his bright eyes gleam with satisfaction. Midas tilts his head sideways and flashes me a totally amazed grin, looking to me for approval--and maybe a treat too. Obeying my verbal cue of either Left or Right, Midas swings gracefully to the correct side of my wheelchair. As we enter the mall together, it's easy to see why he is the service dog of my dreams.
Yet Midas is more than that. For me, Midas brings the Saint Francis dream full-circle. I am immensely proud of the teamwork between our staff, the board of directors and hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Each of these individuals helps to carry the mission of Saint Francis Service Dogs into the future--ultimately, making a difference in the lives of many new dreamers.
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