I don’t have a hectic life. I live in Madison and work in Milwaukee two or three days a week. On the mornings we go to Milwaukee, I ask Ezra to bring me his vest and put on my splints and coat in preparation for our walk before going to work. Eventually, we’re outside in my fenced in back yard. Exclamation point for Ezra! He rolls in the snow, jumps, brings his favorite outdoor toy, jumps some more. When he sees the leash he drops the toy as he knows we’re headed out. I look up at the colors starting to show on the eastern horizon and it feels so good to be out here. I’ve always loved winter, but would I be out here to take a walk if it weren’t for Ezra? No way. He has helped me reclaim a lost pleasure.
When Ezra and I are not working in Milwaukee, I’m able to stay home and work in my study. I am an occupational therapist, clinician turned academic, and finally now, a researcher.
I try to religiously avoid squatting, but on one occasion I didn’t think ahead when I went to put Ezra’s just-washed blanket in his kennel. My knee locked up on me – very painful until I get it straight – but then I can’t move my leg. Ezra came running when he heard my yelp. When I had my leg straight and could calm down, I told Ezra to go get his vest – one of the tasks Ezra was trained to do to help me. I took the strap (a tool I developed for Ezra to use) out of the zippered pouch on his vest, wrapped it around my ankle and told Ezra “TUG!” He took the strap he tugged – just like we had practiced. Such a fine boy! I was able to rotate my knee back into place. Later, I returned to the work at hand; Ezra sitting at my feet.
On another day, Ezra and I headed to St. Mary’s Hospital where I was an OT for seven years. While we were there, one of the clients spent some time petting Ezra and sat straighter and longer as a result. That is what OT is all about, rehabilitation through activity. As we were leaving, Ezra brought smiles to so many people’s faces. He does this all the time. In the lobby I was asked a familiar question, “Are you training him?” If people are accustomed or familiar with what service dogs do, they expect to see a working dog with a person in a wheelchair. Since I wasn’t using my cane that day, I looked able-bodied.
Answering this question gives me a chance to talk about hidden disabilities. It’s an opportunity to talk about how hidden disabilities are not just physical, but can be cognitive or psychological. I just responded with a smile and said, “No, he’s mine,” and moved right along.