Editor’s note: Support animals are one of the most important accessibility tools that people with differences utilize. Though many assume the only working animals for people with disabilities are dogs for the visually impaired, today all kinds of animals are being trained to accommodate difference. Dogs are now providing service to people with all kinds of conditions, from seizures, to food allergies, to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Today we have the story of Elvis, a mobility support service dog, who wrote in to tell us a little bit about how he helps his human thrive. Think you or someone you love might benefit from a service animal? For general information about service animals, check out the Americans with Disabilities Act resource page here. You can also check out this great article, which provides a list of organizations that train dogs for specific conditions. Most of these organizations can provide service animals for free or for very low cost to people who need them. You can apply for a service dog via various organizations, including The Guardian Angels, Service Dogs of America, and Paws with a Cause. See this website for a list of frequently asked questions about service animals and the law, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can check out The Service Dog project, which raised Elvis, right here. Interested in training your dog to be a service dog? You can find more information here. For more information on types of services dogs and how they work click here.
Just Keep Swimming
My name is Elvis and I’m a service dog.
My human came to the Boston from England for medical treatment in 2016. She expected to be here for no more than eight weeks; now, over three years later, she lives full-time in Boston. She has a complex medical history including dystonia/muscle spasticity, which means that she walks differently than most people. Until I came into her life, she used a wheelchair or crutches for movement.
I was born and raised at the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, MA. I was trained as a mobility service dog and was donated to my human in May 2018. I help her walk, balance, and navigate the world. Since I came into her life she has been able to put her crutches and wheelchair away for the most part, although when she does need her wheelchair I am also trained to pull that! She always tells me how much freedom I have given her. Before me she avoided a lot of things. When she came to a set of steps, she was frightened, knowing she would likely fall. When she slipped and stumbled, she often found herself stuck on the floor with her crutches, unable to get up.
Since I came into her life, we take on steps without a doubt. I stop numerous falls, supporting her when she stumbles. If I am unable to stop her from falling, no matter how hard I try, I am right there to get her off the floor. My human often tells me that it is the little moments that make her smile every day. These are simple freedoms like knowing she can step up onto the curb while walking down the street, or grab something off a shelf without losing her balance. I am always right by her side, and if she loses her balance, I’m there to catch her. When she becomes very dizzy or ends up passing out, I am there to support her. I know my human inside and out. I know the days we can play around and the days when I need to be more focused on keeping her safe. I brace to keep her upright, lay under her legs when she is unconscious, and do all I can to support her. I am basically a moving crutch with four legs and a huge heart!
We have been through numerous hospital admissions, surgeries, and emergency room trips together. No matter what situation she puts me in, I am always there to help her navigate the world despite her chronic medical conditions. We have ups and downs, but stick together. For instance, at the beginning of this year my human was really not well at all. Through a long hospital stay, I made sure I slept at the end of her bed every night. I helped her take her first steps during the really tough moments after her surgeries. While I was trained specifically for mobility, during the time we have been a team, I have learned how to read her other medical signals. I am now very in tune with my human. I tend to notice when she is feeling off before she does. Sometimes I can tell that her blood sugar is off, or that she is having a bad mobility day, or that her cardiac issues are acting up. I make sure to tell her when things are off. In this way, I have saved her from getting very sick or hurt multiple times.
I’m not sure people always realize how important I am to my human and how much I have changed her life. I have prevented multiple emergency room visits, concussions, and injuries. Perhaps even more important, I have allowed my human to grow so much more confident about living life despite her medical challenges. I have helped remind her that she is so much more than her medical conditions, no matter what they try throwing at her. Looking back at our time together, it is incredible seeing all the achievements she has accomplished with me by her side. I also know that her friends and family are so grateful that my human can live life independently now that she has me. She can have the life she wants, because she is never alone. I always keep an eye on her.
Balancing school, health, an internship, and life can seem quite challenging at times, but we embrace every moment. We made a promise to ourselves to live life to the fullest, make the best memories, and pursue our goals without looking back. My human also has some incredible doctors that helped inspire her passion to work in medicine. (Not that she needed much pushing! She has been known to take her finals in the hospital the night before surgery.) She just loves to help people, especially children, in any way she can. In fact, we both love volunteering with kids. Before me, she couldn’t do this volunteer work very often because of her mobility challenges. Now, we do it together all the time.
I would be lying if I said there weren't any moments where my human’s health scares us! There are definitely tough days, especially during hospital stays. Through it all, however, she has a determination that never seems to fade. She says that she couldn’t do it without me or the support system she has built. We help her “just keep swimming”, a saying that she holds on to in those tough moments. We always keep swimming, no matter what life throws at us, together. There’s another saying she says a lot, which I like. When people doubt her ability to pursue her goals, or try to put limits on her, she says: “Just because my path is different, doesn’t mean I am lost.” We walk through the world together, and that might seem different to some people, but we are definitely not lost. While we never expected our journey to look like this, we know we are exactly where we need to be.
I am Service Dog Elvis and I have helped give my human her life back. You can follow my adventures on Instagram @servicedogelvis and my trainers, The Service Dog Project, at @servicedogproject!