A visit to Susquehanna Service Dogs for an in-person interview regarding mobility assistance

That title stinks.

But I’m exhausted.

The euphoria of today is wearing off after miles of traffic, construction zones in the rain, and accident after accident at the roadside.

I got up with my 4 a.m. alarm after an uneasy night of sleep, primarily because I knew I was driving down to Susquehanna Service Dogs’ new training facility about 75 miles away. Alone, as the Teenager had clients. Which made her very unhappy because DOGS.

Took a shower. Drank some coffee. Even did some work on my novel, Road Trip, the next volume in the Fashion and Fiends series.

Went to work. Only performed about 89% despite getting the refixes. My toe was burning, my neuroma pain was back at between a 6-8 and my hip was uncomfortable, feeling like it didn’t want to bend. I didn’t want to take my Baclofen, because even though I have had success taking it in the morning… it felt like tempting fate in a bad way to take a muscle relaxer before a solo road trip on a rainy day.

I opted to wear my Kassy Boot by DV/Dolce Vita from Stitch Fix. I agonized a bit over which shoes to wear. Did I wear my work shoes so I could walk as I do in flat soled Vans? I decided on my cowboy boots because it shows how I walk in public. And I can always take my shoes off.

The drive to the facility was boring thanks to the rain. I had hoped to stop for coffee once I got my bearings near them, but I had forgotten how much nothing there is in the area around the Rt. 78/81 split.

When I arrived, a service-dog-in-training came to greet me, as a test of his interaction and focus with new people around. I was told to pet him only when he successfully remained in his “sit” after his trainer told him to “stay.”

We tried three times, but each time he stood. So we didn’t get much petting done.

I read some of my book, made some notes in my journal and willed myself not to look so red. I got very nervous when the candidate before me seemed much older than I am and had a cane. Of course, my immediate thought was, “I’m not disabled enough to be here.”

I got to meet the woman I have been working with so far, but at this stage of the process I will now be working with someone new. The interview team included a volunteer, a handler, the administrator in charge of dog training and the person who I will be partnering with for the next stages of the process.

Today allowed them to ask me questions about my condition, what I think a dog could do for me, about me in general and I got to work with an ambassador service dog. She showed me all the tasks she could do and I got to walk with her using different techniques: just a leash, a soft strap, a stiff mobility harness and a leathery mobility harness that is softer for me to hold but more snug on the dog.

They videotaped me walking, with shoes and without, with the dog and without. The dog was such a goof and a show-off. I think she knows her job is to make people at ease and happy as much as it is to show people what a dog can do. The staff and volunteers complimented my boots.

The drive down took 90 minutes, but the drive home took almost three hours. But you know what? It was an amazing experience. To work with a trained, experienced dog and get a feel for the people– paid and volunteer– that do this incredible work.

A dog is an incredible commitment, but I also see how much the dog can do and what a valuable relationship a service dog and handler team can have. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity, and if the day comes that Susquehanna Service Dogs can place a dog with me, I’d be very grateful.

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