It’s been one year since I published my blog (I know, I can't believe it!), so I think it’s time to formally introduce my service dog, Lassie!
Applying For & Receiving Lassie
I received Lassie in June 2018.
My family applied for a service dog while I was in the ICU at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta in January 2018. I wasn’t able to write the personal essay myself, I don’t even remember being aware that we were applying for a service dog, so my brother Weston wrote it on my behalf.
While I was inpatient, Canine Assistants dogs would come to visit me, and it was probably one of the few bright spots of my hospital stay. I remember towards the end, I would dread seeing the service dogs because I knew that my physical therapists were going to make me sit up to visit with them, something that felt nearly impossible, but I was still always happy to see the dogs :)
After I transferred to the Shepherd Center, we were moved on to the next phase of the application process, where we filled out personality tests, recorded videos of ourselves answering questions and of our house, and provided information on our other pets.
Sometime in the spring of 2018, I found out that I was chosen to receive a service dog and that I would start training camp in June of that year, a week after I finished Day Rehab at Shepherd. Applicants are typically on the waitlist for anywhere between 2 to 5 years, so I was extremely lucky to receive Lassie less than 6 months after applying.
My mom and I attended training camp for two weeks where I was matched with Lassie on the first day. For this process, they like to say that you don’t choose the dog, the dog chooses you. They pair you with a dog that they think will be a good fit and evaluate your interaction to see if it’s a good match.
In class, we learned about the dogs, how they were trained, and how to work with them. We practiced different skills with them and took them on outings. After the fourth day, I was able to take Lassie home with me for the first time.
These dogs are typically around 2 years old when they get matched with their handler. While the dog is training in their first couple years of life, they live with a couple foster families who introduce them to new situations and start to teach them tasks.
We were able to meet Lassie’s fosters at her graduation, who gave us some of her favorite toys and a scrapbook of baby pictures.
Lassie is a 4-year-old pure bred chocolate lab.
Lassie is actually short for Molasses because she is from the dessert litter. Some of her siblings’ names are Chunk, Bon Bon, and Éclair (I think Lassie got the best name out of her family!)
She is the most loving, loyal, and snuggliest pup!
It wasn’t “love at first sight” for me and Lassie as some may think, it took some getting to know each other before I felt really connected to her, and I think her to me, but now we are inseparable.
We’ve been through lots of ups and downs these past two years, we had to do a lot of work to get her to the shining star she is today, but I honestly can’t imagine my life without her. There was less than two months between the time I left the hospital and the time I got her, so I really don’t know life in a wheelchair without her.
When I first got Lassie, I was still spending a lot of time in bed and wasn’t able to do much, but she got me out of bed because I had to feed her, walk her, and play with her, and that was really a game-changer in my recovery.
Lassie has also helped me meet a lot of people because she’s just so cute! She’s a people person (to a fault- she wants to say hi to everyone when she should be working), so people always ask to pet her. Sometimes I have to say no, which is hard, but it distracts her, and I need her to stay focused, but it has also allowed me to meet new people.
That’s one of my favorite things about Lassie, when we’re out in public, people look at me because of her, not because of the wheelchair. It gives them a positive connotation of me because I have a cute dog, instead of seeing my disability and the ways I’m limited.
Lassie also helps me with the tasks I’ve taught her.
Some of the things that she does for me are:
“pick it up”- this is her biggest and most useful task, she picks up things when I drop them or picks up her toys so that I don’t have to bend over, and it also is a step to many of her other tasks
“laundry”- we’re still working on this one, but I hand Lassie a piece of dirty clothing to put in the laundry basket, I’m hoping that we’ll eventually be able to use this command for putting clothes in or getting them out of the laundry machine
"open it”- at home, I have bandanas tied to doors, drawers, and cabinets so that she can tug on them to open the door or to open a drawer and get something out
“close it”- Lassie uses her nose to push doors, drawers, or cabinets closed
“touch”- she either uses her nose or paw to touch something like a button to open a door
“push”- she uses her nose to push something along the floor like a laundry basket
“hold it”- another one we’re still working on; I hand her something and she holds it in her mouth
Some more fun facts about Lassie!
Schnugs (because she’s so snuggly)
La La (only my mom calls her this)
Places Lassie’s been:
Utah (my first time flying in a wheelchair and with her!)
New York City
Santa Rosa, FL
Lassie’s favorite activities (or mine that she does with me!)
Go for walks (especially during quarantine, gotta get that energy out!)
Play at the park (we love to go to Norman Park at UF and throw the ball, after she’s done sniffing of course)
See her friends (Lassie loves everyone, but she has a few favorites)
Lay in the sun (she loves to tan!)
Sleep! (and snore SO loudly!!)
Go to the beach (this is my favorite, but she’s a good sport)
Kayak (I brought her one time and she was good, but I was nervous we were going to fall in!)
Go for bike rides (great exercise and she loves when she doesn’t have to be left at home!)
Lassie’s favorite foods:
Apples (she loves to eat them off the core while I hold it for her!)
Lassie’s favorite toys
Christmas tree (she came with this one, her foster family gave it to us since it was one of her favorite toys!)
Sloth (she’s had two of the same one, she loves them so much but tears them up!)
Gator (she has a lot of these as well, Go Gators)
Really anything that’s soft or that squeaks!
I hope you learned some fun facts about Lassie, what she does for me, and service dogs in general. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or are interested in applying for a service dog for yourself!
Thanks for sticking with She Persisted by Mariel for a year! I’ve loved this journey and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes us!