I’m not the writer in the family. Everyone who knows me knows that — my sister is the family’s writer, then my mother, then me and my dad. I’ve never had confidence in showing others anything I wrote; this blog is a huge departure for me and a bold move that I’m sure will at some point register in my mind strongly enough for my heart to clench as my chest starts to feel an oppressively tight prison and my stomach to take up gymnastics. I just don’t share writing. It’s too intimate and too permanent and far too much like giving someone a piece of yourself that they can tuck away and then hold out later, tauntingly, waving it as if to say: but there is proof, you thought and spoke and were this way and you can never take it back again. I’m still squeamish about it and am frankly not sure how writing this blog is not sending me into a full-on panic…so I’m sure it will.
This post wasn’t actually supposed to be about nerves when I opened up a new page to write. It was and hopefully still shall be about why on earth I thought I should have a blog. We’ve already covered a few of the many reasons why I shouldn’t: I’m not a great writer, I’m traditionally not a confident writer (though that has greatly improved over time, a blog is still a departure for me); I clearly don’t have my life together, which I feel will be evident the moment anyone reads what I’ve said, and nobody wants to hear about yet another person falling apart. I don’t even have some inspiring mission or calling that leads me to fight some inner demons and write a blog. =
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to owner-train a service dog. I knew it would be very difficult and there was no guarantee of success of course, and I knew from research a good deal (for an amateur) about training, service dogs, dog behavior, frequently seen types of service dogs, assistance animal law….I just didn’t realize how damn hard it would be to find anyone qualified and willing to work with me as a professional trainer guiding us. There are shockingly few options in MA, because I need guidance from someone with a specific subset of knowledge, and none of the organizations or programs were willing to so much as try to give me a name of someone they knew–if they knew anyone — and regardless of my apologetically phrased inquiries always seemed rather offended that I dare ask them if they had any connections when I was not a fit for their program. I’m not a veteran, which also seems to lose me points in the eyes of some psychiatric service dog trainers, and I am committed to a positive reinforcement training philosophy that rules out a few others. Even finding one or two to eventually for various reasons find were not a choice? — well, even getting that far took many weeks of searching and asking everyone with even a faint connection to dog-training and care.
I know we’ve done pretty damn well for what we are and am proud of our progress. Storm has a talent, an aptitude for learning, and she seems well suited to the life of a service dog thus far. We work hard and frequently and it’s made a huge difference. I also know that other people have actually done this thing and are fully functioning service dog teams, just as strong and solid as any produced by a program (and, just to be clear, I have nothing at all against programs and in fact would probably like to work for one one day — it’s just not an option for us since I already have my SD candidate chosen and in my area there are no programs that can work with us as is, unfortunately) — and that means other people must have felt some of this. It’s so overwhelming to realize the incredible number of tiny things you need to know: how to handle yourself at a checkout counter (we’re doing much better at that one), what to do when there’s just no room under the chair or the table at a restaurant for your medium-sized dog and you’re not sure where she even should be — forget where you can get her to stay — so as not to block aisles and get in the way. It feels like every day there are another dozen things I think of that Storm and I have to learn and those don’t even scare me as much as the hundreds of others I fear I won’t even realize I should have been worrying about instead.
Every time something goes “wrong”, I freeze in worry that this is the moment we wash out. When she does something I thought we were past, I want to scream in frustration that I just don’t know enough to help. When I screw up, I look at her and wonder how long it will be before my inexperienced idiocy overtakes her incredible potential and we fail. Worst of all I find myself wondering what will happen if — when? — I have to accept that we’ve washed out. It was so incredibly difficult to take this step and add the hope of a service dog to my life (and Storm, specifically, not just any service dog / potential) — that I have to hold on to it as hard as I dare of the nagging and worrying and hazy unformed guilt will swoop down and I’ll be back to thinking I don’t deserve/need one somehow. I always seem to be skirting the edge of that mindset, with frequent trips into it that I know I would not have if this were a friend or family member rather than myself. It’s just hard.
I think I started this hoping to find a community. Maybe others will red this and relate or offer advice or share their own problems and we’ll commiserate and try to help one another; maybe this will be how someone learns about service dogs (if that is the case, please supplement with other things — message me or comment for a few resources I personally like). Most likely it won’t take off and it will do none of the things I sometimes imagine, and yet I still want to try. It seems to be a habit of mine. I’m not an optimistic person and yet I find myself starting projects like this that I hope, deep down, will reach people and do something good in the world (the bigger example of this is my photo/interview series In Sight).
What do you think? — and, for the love of dog, do you know any service dog trainers I can contact?