Written by Colt Rosensweig
As service dog handlers, we hear it all the time:
“You’re so lucky that you get to take your dog everywhere!”
Normally I can just shrug it off. Yes, it’s a fairly shallow thing to say. You’re so lucky, you have a life-altering disability! You’re so lucky, you get to display to the world with a cute dog that you’re disabled! But most of the time, it’s pretty low on the list of things people say that annoy the crap out of me.
“Your independence is all wrapped up in that cute creature. That bond is insanely strong.”
Lately though, hearing or reading that remark has cut like a knife. Because when you “get to take your dog everywhere,” that means when your dog is in any way unable to work, your life as you know it pretty much stops. Your independence is all wrapped up in that cute creature. That bond is insanely strong. So not only does your regular life get put on hold, your heart is in your throat practically every second, worrying about your partner being uncomfortable or in pain, maybe their career ending.
At the beginning of February, I was in San Francisco for a musical, Finding Neverland. As usual, before going into the theatre, I took Kaline to a grassy area so he could have a last potty break. He promptly peed on a handy tree. Then he lifted his leg again, and nothing came out. And again. And again. The most he could get out was a few drops.
I’m a helicopter handler, and I know this well. Every slight change in behavior gets noted and agonized over. Before the show had even started, Kaline had an appointment the following morning with his regular vet.
Long story short, Kaline had a bladder stone almost the size of a marble stuck in his urethra. Despite the valiant efforts of most of the staff on duty at his regular vet, Adobe, the stubborn thing wouldn’t budge. So Kaline ended up at a specialty clinic where he could have the surgery necessary to remove the stone. Surgery was more difficult than even they expected, and when we picked up Kaline the next day the poor guy looked like he had an enormous red-and-purple udder.
Kaline’s recovery was supposed to be two weeks until regular exercise without running or jumping, four until he could do everything he’d like to. Well, he ended up on four full weeks of complete restriction, thanks to swelling that only reluctantly went away and a pair of seromas that bled more or less constantly for that entire period. Kaline got ten-minute walks to relieve himself, and no more. Amazingly, he didn’t go stir crazy (I started to).
Complete restriction, obviously, meant no working, other than deep pressure at home. We camped out at my parents’ house, where Juno could take over Kaline’s fridge- and retrieving-related duties (Kaline, naturally, was still allowed to do all his cuddling after he got his catheter out). My dad is retired, so he could hang out with Kaline during the day while Juno and I did our walks.
“He’s the best partner anyone could ask for, and he makes my life whole. And I am lucky, insanely lucky, to have him.”
But that was my life: I only went out to walk other people’s dogs, or my own. No grocery shopping. No going out to dinner. No going pretty much anywhere. And of course, my fantastic anxiety-brain pulled up all the horrible memories from this exact time of year in 2012, when I noticed Juno, who was about the same age Kaline is now, having trouble with stairs and catching thrown toys. When I found out she’d eventually go blind and that her career would be over much too early.
Now, finally, a few days past the five-week mark, Kaline is very clearly on the mend. Thanks to his regular vet, Dr. Denise Johnsen at Adobe, Kaline’s bleeding seromas have shrunk to pinpricks and dried up. (Kaline is delighted not to have to wear a diaper anymore.) The swelling is completely gone. He’s cleared to go back to work, other than his mobility duties, and to go on one hour-long walk per day. The sparkle is back in his eyes and mine, and the amount of relief I feel is pretty much indescribable.
Kaline’s surgery and recovery has made me realize even more how crucial he is to my life, and increased my already quite considerable appreciation of him. He’s the best partner anyone could ask for, and he makes my life whole. And I am lucky, insanely lucky, to have him.
But I wish more people would think about this part of being a service dog handler. Not only is having a working dog a ton of, well, work, but when they can’t work, it’s not like we can just keep on with business as usual. Our lives are dependent on them. When people think about how we’re “lucky” to have our dogs in public, they’re thinking about how nice it would be for them to choose to bring their pet with them sometime. Well, for us it’s not really a choice. We need our service dogs, or we live much more circumscribed lives.