In my mid 30s, I was diagnosed with an extremely rare progressive neuromuscular disease called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP). Since then, bit by bit, my independence has slipped away from me. I’ve gone from using a cane to a wheelchair. While I use a walker at times, I’ve found myself easily losing my balance. I’ve completely given up driving.
Gone are the days I can just head out the door on a whim. By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m already mentally and physically drained. I’m happiest when I’m in my manual chair, rather than my cumbersome power chair, but I don’t have the strength except for with short distance on level areas.
Seeing other people in wheelchairs with their PADS dogs made me realize I could use some support. I count myself fortunate that my application was accepted before the wait list was closed recently, but I was told the wait could be up to 4 years. Each year, as my HSP progresses, I wonder if I’ll even be able to manage a dog by the time I get one. The waiting has compounded a myriad of existing emotions: fear, isolation, an inability to focus and physical discomfort.
Recently, friends gave me the amazing experience of looking after a former PADS Dog named Maisie for a few days. This nine-year-old Golden Retriever was precluded from placement with a client because of health issues, but she gave me a gift. A glimpse at what it might be like to have amazing partner on this scary journey with me!
Maisie walked alongside me in my manual wheelchair, and was checking in with me constantly to see if things were OK. She’d stand in front of me on cue and let me use her shoulders for balance as I got up off the ground. When I dropped the mail from my mailbox, she immediately picked it up for me. The most remarkable part was that with Maisie at my side, I felt calm. My worried, racing mind (which I affectionately call ‘monkey brain’) went away. I was present in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.
Who could you ask to be at your side, helping you manage your challenges, every single moment with nothing but unconditional love and joy? No person can even come close to giving you all those things, and yet a PADS dog could.
This PADS family—the staff, clients, volunteers—connect in ways that are so supportive. Dog or not this is a family that I want to support and stay connected with forever. I want to help, to build awareness of the extraordinary work that they do. It feels so wonderful to be passionate about something again! You are forever heroes to me. Thank you for changing my life, giving me hope and, quite probably, giving me a life that will now have a purpose!