Dr. Abby Whiting
Recently a young girl who is very near and dear to me was diagnosed with a serious chronic and debilitating illness. Needless to say this has had an explosive impact on her, her family, her friends, her life, and her future. In the beginning the focus was on getting to the diagnosis and finding treatments to direct our energies towards...but after a couple years and no real definitive answers….her disability became clear. I firmly believe no child should endure what she does on the daily. I was lost , as was her patient care team and her family. What can we do to have a meaningful touch in her life, how can we mitigate the pain?
After many specialists appointments, therapists, PT, etc someone recommended a Service Dog. In an instant I knew how I could help. It was like being pulled by a magnet in this direction. In years past I had been a puppy raiser for a SD...and I knew I could do it again. After researching countless SD organizations and considering the adoption of a fully trained SD, we came to the conclusion, financially speaking, we had to do it on our own.
Where to start? I researched everything I could. I found trainers who were willing to advise me and plenty of support from the SD world and my veterinary friends. Then we had to go about the business of finding a SD prospect. This is the moment when I started to believe in divine intervention/coincidence. We heard about a Golden breeder who was everything I had hoped for: they were a tiny operation, 1-2 litter a year...health guarantee, raised in the house with children, temperament fantastic, and previous litters from these parents had resulted in SDs. And then, our angel contacted me: a friend and client who prefers to remain anonymous called me. She too has a SD and she and I talked for months about my hopes to get one for this child. She called to tell me she was donating the adoption price of the dog. WOW I was blown away. We called the breeder: and yes we were on the waiting list. A few weeks later we heard they were born and we were invited to come see them. We selected our pup and visited him weekly while he was growing.
As a group we decided the pup, now known as “Thor” , would be sent to me for puppy raising and basic foundational training. At 9 weeks old he arrived at my door a bundle of golden cuteness. We have been so blessed by so many angels in our network. My veterinary clinic donated his pediatric care, Ceva Animal Health donated Adaptil products, a gifted dog trainer (Trainer Kevin) with Kennelwood Village Pet Resorts in St. Louis, MO. donated his basic training and coaching of me, and his “side kicks” donated his food, equipment, and a medical insurance policy for him.
Thor and I went to work. We started with the basics: house training, crate training, socialization, basic obedience, and moved on to public access and task training. We worked hard with Kevin to get him ready, and soon it was clear he was destined for a higher purpose. He took to his training like a fish to water. We were able to wheelchair train him in 6 days when his girl took a turn for the worse.
Recently he was placed with his girl for a trial. While his training is ongoing, his placement confirmed he will be the Superhero she needed. He has transitioned well so far especially for a young dog. They are becoming a team and watching them come together has refilled my bucket immensely.
It was a ton of work: there were no days off of puppy training and public access. I worked him when I was tired, sick, crabby, and when I was motivated and happy. He went to work with me, grocery, malls, movies...everywhere. Actually I recently went to the bathroom alone for the first time in months. There were moments when I wasn’t sure this would help. What if he failed as a SD, then all his sidekicks and angels would be let down. What if I couldn’t train him, I mean I’m not a trainer...but then I saw the look on Sophie’s face when she worked with him. I saw the confidence he gave her. I saw him instantly seem to know he needed to stay close to her, to protect her.
Anyone who has had experiences with true Service dogs knows the amazingly powerful impact they have on their handlers. It is a relationship like no other. I am so grateful Thor is here for Sophie. I am beyond grateful that I was able to be his puppy raiser. It refilled my emotional/spiritual bucket and allowed me to be the change I long to see in the world. It dissipated my helpless feeling in regards to her illness. It was the honor of my life.
My friends thought it would be very hard on me to let him go to her home, to say goodbye. I had folks expecting me to be in tears, or to be lost without him. The weekend we placed the dynamic duo together I got to spend with them, coaching them. He impressed me beyond words and it was clear to me that all of us have been on a journey guided by something higher. He is meant for this. I am not sad at all. I am warmed by the gifts that he brings to his new handler and the independence she will find with him.
Why am I telling you all this, why on this blog? Because this has been a huge piece of my self care, a big infusion into my personal bucket. If you can volunteer your gifts to make a difference in the life of another, let me tell you...do it. It makes me feel a touch selfish, as perhaps I got more out of this experience than the family will.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.