Love at First Sight! (approx.. 6 – 7 min. read)

I know I said that I would give you an update on Laddie, my service dog, but I’m not sure where to start. He’s my ticket to freedom and I don’t know where to begin!

I’ve been out and about more in the last ten days than I have in the last ten months, and this week isn’t even half over yet! Yesterday I went to a Doctor’s appointment, tomorrow I have a hair appointment and on Thursday, I’m meeting up with two people from my twitter family!

When I first met Laddie, I wasn’t sure he was going to change my life so dramatically because he seemed to be more interested in his “weekend trainer” than he was in me. For me, it was love at first sight, but he kept pulling on the leash trying to get back to the trainer.

The first night the service dogs went home with their trainers, but after that they came back to the hotel with us which they would for the next five days of training. Then, if they passed their access tests after an intense week of training, they would come home with us.

When we got back to the hotel the first night, Gary and I talked about Laddie’s reaction to me and he held me as I cried. I’d put so much stock in getting a service dog and hoping it would change my life, yet the dog had completely ignored me. Yeah, yeah, I know I was expecting too much as he’d been in quite a few different homes during his two years of training and he probably just thought I was just another “trainer,” but I still felt crushed.

On the second day, we knew that we’d be getting our dogs first thing in the morning, so it made it quite difficult to sleep. Honestly, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve I was so excited! When we got to the training center, we were handed a gift bag that contained all of the things necessary to continue training our dogs, as well as their “service” jackets, and then we got our dogs. That was when the training really began, and it would continue for the next four days; classes during the day and then back to the hotel to bond during the night.

The first morning, I was up at five thirty to take him out for a pee… five thirty! I hadn’t been outside first thing in the morning for ages, let alone when it was dark and in a strange place! Sure, Gary was with me, but if it weren’t for Laddie, I would have made all kinds of excuses to not put myself through that kind of stress.

Each morning as I was putting his gentle leader on, I would talk to him, softly, and get real close to his face. I’ve almost always had a dog and I knew that once he trusted me, he would give me a wet slobbery kiss, and by the fourth day, he did. That was when I knew that Laddie only had eyes for me.

During our training, we took the dogs to an off-leash park on the training grounds to get them used to being recalled. The first-day Laddie didn’t come back when I told him to, but it wasn’t long before he came to me. We also had to go on outings to prepare ourselves and our service dogs to listen to us when they were out, working for us.

These outings were to places that I’ve avoided, in the last decade or so; malls, hardware stores, and parks, and it was really anxiety provoking. The other two recipients in the class felt the same way but I think it made it a little easier knowing we weren’t alone. That there were two other people with PTSD, struggling right along-side us and we drew strength from each other.

After six days we came to the end of the course and it was time for the access test. The access test involved going to the local grocery store, having the dogs heel off leash, walk past food, service dogs, children, and other people without responding to them. This test was incredibly important and if our dogs didn’t pass it they wouldn’t be able to go out in public until their next test, which couldn’t be any earlier than thirty days after the first. Worse case scenario was that they wouldn’t go home with us and that thought was at the back of my mind the whole time.

You know how I catastrophize everything and I was catastrophizing this like you wouldn’t believe, but I didn’t need too because Laddie rocked it! He worried me when the examiner was dropping food off the table onto his feet, but he only had eyes for me and he passed with flying colours!

Needless to say, my life has changed. I’ve been out every day since I got Laddie and although I’m still anxious, he truly gives me courage. I believe that this is only the beginning and I’m so excited to have him by my side, going from place to place talking about mental illness and ending the stigma that is so rampant.

Stay safe, stay strong and stay tuned to find out what Laddie and I are doing to #KeepTalkingMH! Thanks for following.