Guest post by Kristin Platzer. Kristin has been partnered with SSD Lucy P.
I have SSD Lucy P. She may not be a traditional service dog in appearance – she is a Shih Tzu. However she is a traditional service dog in many other ways. She has been trained to perform various tasks for me and I will continue training her for the rest of our life together. In addition, she provides an immeasurable amount of emotional and healing aid to me.
I have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (otherwise known as RSD), affecting my legs. My condition is as a result of an accident I had in 2003. RSD is an extremely painful condition; in addition to the pain, it causes tissue damage, muscle atrophy, decreased blood flow, reduced nail growth, reduced hair growth, and more. Most people I (and my doctors) know who have RSD rarely leave their house, much less hold down a job. Before my RSD, I was very much a type A person. I graduated 7th in my class from high school and Magna Cum Laude from college. I am a Certified Public Accountant and in addition to my time spent in public accounting I have spent the past 20 years running our family business. I have always been a high achiever and had a strong work ethic. I tend to be one of the leaders in most things I do.
Since my accident, my life has changed drastically. All of a sudden I could no longer do anything I put my mind to. Working harder was no longer enough or even usually a possibility. I had to constantly deal with something I rarely had to deal with before RSD – failure. Thus many things piled up on me. I could no longer do most of the activities I previously enjoyed. I could no longer take care of many tasks without help (e.g. repairs around the house, shopping, etc.). I could no longer work the hours I had previously worked. I lived in such a haze of pain that most of my social life disappeared. My family went on with their lives without me, not that I could blame them. My life narrowed down to working as much as I could, fighting the insurance companies and collapsing into bed, with only an occasional window of fun. I never considered myself as someone who would be prone to depression, but I became very anxious, stressed, & depressed. I became very withdrawn as I am not a complainer; I suffer in silence.
Then, in 2008, Lucy came into my life. Lucy loves everyone, but she and I quickly formed an especially tight bond. I discovered holding her helped me get through some of the pain, helped calm my racing heart, and helped the other side effects of high pain (i.e. spiking blood pressure). I had already determined that she would be well trained, and Lucy quickly learned how to use a potty pad and many commands. She learned to walk with me using a cane. She has always gone to work with me and I discovered I could work more hours with her with me. She is so exquisitely tuned into me that when I am having an especially hard time she jumps onto my lap and then onto my desk (if I’m at work) and talks to me. She gets right in my face (which is cute enough) and talks to me and pats my face with her paws. It is amazing. If I’m at home on the couch she jumps onto my chest and does the same type of thing. She has an uncanny ability to pull me away from my pain, to pull my focus onto her, and even often get me to smile or laugh.
Once we were accepted as an owner trained service dog team, I began to find I could get more shopping done with her accompanying me. I use the shopping cart as a walker and she sits in the basket (which I cover well with her blanket to prevent any complaints). When I start to falter from pain or weakness she does her talking and tapping me on my face thing. In addition, I discovered that with her with me I often seemed to move in a bubble of positivity. People around me smile and comment on Lucy. People are nice, even at Walmart! It’s hard not to feel better when you have smiling friendly people around you. I also went to church more often, went out to eat, & various other activities. It’s still a small fraction of what I previously did, but a lot better than before Lucy. She quickly learned how to pick things up for me. In addition, she helps keep me moving, which is critical in helping me to keep the use of my legs (many RSD patients lose the use of their affected limbs).When I am stuck on the couch or in bed all day (or days), she’s always right with me. She may leave briefly to greet my husband or daughter, but she’ll be back before long. I used to feel so very bad on these days, physically and mentally. Sometimes I can’t even get up to go to the bathroom; thank goodness for good bladder control. Before I hooked up a remote control, sometimes it would get dark and I couldn’t even turn on the light. Lucy helps me so much these days. When she lies on my chest and stares into my eyes. it’s like I’m being hypnotized. The love and healing I feel from her is so powerful. We’ve developed a variety of games we can play from the couch. She brings me her tug toys, her animals to attack and her ball I can throw from one room to another or bounce off the far wall. We even practice training right from the couch. I’ve always tried to make training fun and she loves to learn (and loves the accompanying treats, too). She is learning to fetch things for me. Just having her company on these days helps.
In addition to Lucy helping me, Lucy has been a therapy dog for most of her life. She really excels at this and is quite popular at Hershey Medical Center, where we currently do most of our volunteering. She has been in their calendar for 3 years; this year will be the fourth. She and I primarily volunteer in the emergency department, where I don’t have to do as much walking. She is the most interactive therapy dog in their program (they have approx. 25 dogs there). She reaches out to the patients and likes to hold their hand. The doctors & nurses tell the patients “Lucy will hold your hand.” Her tail wags, she grins, and stares deep into the patients’ eyes. These are all people who are suffering, yet smiles almost always greet us when we walk into the room. I have walked up to patients sobbing in pain and five minutes later they are laughing and playing with Lucy. Children hold onto her while they are getting their IV (and so do adults sometimes).
She has an innate ability to know how active to be with a patient depending on their age and condition; I rarely have to direct her in any way. Doctors and nurses also love to take therapy dog breaks to sooth away some of their stress. She has also lain on the bed in the arms of a dying patient, which meant so much to the patient and her family. She has worked with many types of patients and conditions and worked wonders with so many of them. Just as she is magical to me, she is magical to the patients. Doing pet therapy work with Lucy has also been very beneficial for me. It does something good for my soul, being able to help people. As mentioned, I can no longer do a lot of the activities I used to do. This is something I can do and feel like I am making a difference.
As I am sure you can see by now, Lucy has truly been a savior for me. She is special beyond words and helps me more than I can ever truly express. I feel so blessed that I have her in my life.