June 11, 2005. That’s my day of infamy. At 9:00pm, I walked out my kitchen door – down three concrete steps to my driveway. Those were the last steps I took without pain. I was attacked by my next door neighbor’s dog.
In that attack, I suffered what is known as a “starburst rupture” of the “quadriceps muscle” of my right leg. A starburst rupture is what it sounds like. If you were to look at a cross-section of that muscle, you would see the rupture goes from top to bottom – side to side – and diagonal in each direction. Subsequent to that, I developed a neurological disorder that further compromises my balance, causes tremors in my extremities among other things.
After three years, five surgeries – half a dozen leg braces – crutches – canes – walkers – wheelchairs and more than 500 hours of physical therapy, I had to accept that this was my new normal.
Accepting my disability as being my new normal, I began to research other ways to mitigate my disability, other than all of the crutches, canes, walkers, leg braces and so on. That search led me to “assistance dogs”.
By July of 2008, I narrowed my search for an assistance dog down to one organization, “Canine Partners for Life (CPL)” in Cochranville, PA. In March of 2009, CPL called me and told me they had four dogs for me to test drive. I drove the five and a half hours to the CPL campus where I met four lovely dogs.
The last dog I met was named: “Gretl” (also known as the “Diva”). A beautiful little yellow lab, with eyes that twinkled with a little bit of mischief. When I walked with her, the only way I can describe it is she made me feel like I had been reborn. Gretl matched my gait so perfectly, that my limp is almost un-noticeable. I felt “normal” again. After our walk around, I sat down in a chair and looked into those eyes, she gave me a look, and jumped into my lap, wearing all her gear. I was in love. Then on June 21, 2009 — four years and ten days from that awful night – where a dog took away the use of my leg – a dog would give me back my life. I took her harness in my hand and she has been by my side every step of the way ever since.
At work with Gretl, it wasn’t always peaches and roses. I faced a lot of misunderstandings and resentment from co-workers. I could not get anyone to understand that distracting her, verbally or physically, could be dangerous for me. There were times I would cry driving to work – because I dreaded the constant digs and snide comments. Also, I would cry driving home, some days out of frustration, and some days out of exhaustion from trying to ignore the comments.
Things began go change in “2012”. That was when I volunteered to be the “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Contact” for my facility. I’m a court reporter and work in a local county courthouse. An ADA Contact is a voluntary position. The basic idea is that the ADA contact is someone that anyone coming to one of our courthouses can contact about making arrangements for accommodations because of a “disability”. Calling for a computer aided real time interpreter for someone who is hearing impaired or arranging for a family member to appear with someone with an anxiety disorder – they call me.
Gretl and I are a “team” and she is truly “special” to me !