I never had a dog in my life. I wasn’t ever asked to dog sit and I didn’t ever spend more than a couple of hours with dogs who belonged to friends or family. I felt certain that at some point in the future I would own a dog, but I never had a lifestyle that would justify having a dog. I didn’t have a predictable schedule, I traveled a lot, and spent many weekends away from home.
It was in the initial years after my injury that I first learned about service dogs and what they could do for people with spinal cord injuries. I met a few people with service dogs and only then did I start to comprehend just how amazing these pets were. Not only were they well-trained to perform a variety of tasks for their owners, they were also bred and raised to be docile, calm, and friendly to nearly every person (and other pet) they met. I found out that the primary organization raising these dogs — Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) — was based an hour north of my home. I did some research, found out that I would easily qualify, and I began the application process.
After many months of paperwork, phone calls, and an in-person interview, I was placed on the waitlist and told it would take two years to get my dog. During that time, I didn’t think much about the dog since I knew that it was a very long time to wait and I wanted to manage my expectations and delay the excitement until the opportunity finally arrived.
A couple of months ago, the long wait finally came to an end when I was invited to attend team training at CCI’s headquarters and get my dog. This would involve two full weeks of me living at their campus and spending entire days learning everything about these dogs in general, and how to work with my dog in particular.
As I began the two-week training I was simultaneously excited, yet nervous. I had spent all of the time since my spinal cord injury working towards improving my body while also learning how to move through the world and navigate through my day-to-day activities and I still had plenty of struggles and challenges.
And so I wondered, how would having a dog impact everything? Of course, it would help me in a number of ways, but how could I take care of another living thing when I could barely handle myself?
This is where I have to give huge credit to CCI and their program. From beginning to end, they had everything covered. They had informative lectures, plenty of hands-on training with the dogs, and a dedicated staff of dog trainers who were thorough, committed to ensuring our success, and willing to answer questions, of which I had many. The rooms and common areas they provided for us to live in were clean, well appointed, organized, and comfortable.
Most importantly, at the end of the two weeks, not only did I feel confident and capable of the many aspects of caring for my new companion, I was excited to bring home my dog and start a new chapter of life with a new friend.
Which brings me to Tortilla.
He’s awesome, and yes, that’s his name. Because they spend two years teaching them 40+ commands and meticulously training them using their names, CCI gives the dogs their name for life. Anyone who knows me will appreciate the fact that I got the one dog in the entire group that had a food related name, not to mention such a delicious item essential to a taco, burrito, enchilada, chimichanga, and many more. And it doesn’t hurt that he kinda looks like a tortilla…
So far it has been fantastic. I’ve surprised even myself with how quickly I’ve adapted to life with Tortilla and how much help, pleasure, and pure joy I get from having him with me. He charms everyone he meets and he even gets along with our sweet, yet temperamental, cat.
A huge thank you to Canine Companions for Independence for everything they did for me, not to mention the thousands of other lives they have helped over the years.