Life could not have been more perfect. It was the spring of 1998 and just as plants were blossoming with the new season so was my teamwork with my first service dog, Chimette. Our partnership, further training, and work were all coming in sinc. The more exposure to the community, college life, shopping, time with friends that Met experienced, the better he was able to make quick decisions that made my life safer as I traveled independently in my community. I was coming alive; feeling that I could do anything I set my mind to all thanks to the love, skill, and devotion of my gentle boy.
After a veterinary checkup filled with more vaccinations than I was comfortable with having administered all at once, I was left watching my service dog slip away from me. He became afraid of everything- any sudden movement, anything that loomed over his height, he withdrew from touch, he no longer could handle all the unpredictability of service dog life. I imagine now the experience was not so different from what a parent sees as their child slips into autism. One difference being that I had come to rely upon Met for so much.
Though, I came to realize that Mets falling apart before my eyes seemed so much like the young dog he was after I adopted him, at this point I did not make the connection yet to the fact that the very vaccines I wanted to wait on were responsible for Met's collapse and our lost partnership, temporary as it was. Of course while presented with it, I had no idea whether or not the problems we were encountering would be temporary or permanent. The vets were no help in any of the process- not with a cause, and certainly not with elimination of the problem or rehabilitative techniques to work with. It was up to me to help Met if I could.
I took an incomplete in my coursework and began the long arduous process of working through the myriad of symptoms and difficulties that presented themselves for us. From shadows, to statues, to trees, to kids on bicycles, skates, and skateboards. At times he literally crab walked if he had to go near statues or trees. It was quite sad to see a dog who loved to raise his leg to a big tree, literally crumble at their presence. I knew I probably had seen the end of our partnership at least where public access was concerned. All that remained was seeing just how much I could rehabilitate him. I never considered, however, the possibility that this could just be the way he was going to be. He had some of these problems to a lesser degree when I adopted him (thought to be from lack of socialization), so I believed that we could conquer whatever *this* was. If he came out of it once, then just maybe twice could happen as well.
Over the next few months, life slowly returned to normal. With the help of a clicker (before I even was aware of clicker training), I re-conditioned Met to the various obstacles in our life- things that exposure could not be prevented unless he stayed in seclusion within our apartment for the rest of his life. I gave him consistency and built his exposures to the intolerables- changing them into normal common occurrences he accepted once more. I will admit that there were times that I got exasperated, pushed too much too fast, and probably as a result slowed the rehabilitative path. No one would have known that we had encountered such a devastating blow to our partnership after these few months were behind us. Met was not only working much more effectively in our home environment, but his skill level in the community, shopping and walks on the college campus, had become more on target and focused.
After this experience, I opted to work with another veterinarian in the practice. He was more down to earth and listened to his clients. We had seen him enough to know that he was caring not just for the animals but that in our situation as a service dog team, he would understand about how changes in Met could very well have an impact on my functionality as well. Its just too bad that he was not the vet we saw that spring day when Met had his annual exam. Five months after Mets *meltdown* though having him in our corner was one of the best things going for us when the seizures began.
It happened out of the blue- there was no noticeable pre-ictal phase. One moment Met and I were sitting in our bedroom and the next moment he had been catapulted skyward, his body thrust up and down like a kangaroo- muscles so rigid and limbs contorted. It felt like I was in the midst of a nightmare. Nothing this horrible could really be taking place- and yet it was. The first time it happened I was quite literally in denial. I gathered him up on my lap nonetheless and had a good cry. This was the worst possible thing I could have done for him though. As I'd learn later, acting as normal as possible once the seizure passes is as important (if not more so) with canine seizures as it is with people. I was scared though. I was scared of what would become of Met. I was scared of dealing with my disabilities without his assistance as I lived my life in the community.
Many dogs have very mild problems once all the tests are in and meds and triggers handled properly. For a service dog though, this usually spells out retirement. A retirement neither I nor Met was ready for. But I had that great vet in my corner- a vet who believed in both of us and our partnership. Now it was just a matter of determining if we could be one of those teams that made it. Could we gain the control of Mets seizures that would be necessary for him to safely carry out his job? or would he be one of many service dogs whose job ends as a result of a myriad of diseases, including seizure disorders?
To most in the service dog community, the answer would be clear- the mere thought of working with a dog that had even the slightest thing out of balance would be unconceivable. This is far from a little thing if control is not easily achieved though. I could go through the entire process here of how we found a proper diagnosis for Met, but that is something best left for a book. Through his history, his triggers, even his issues with various fillers and drugs it became all to clear that Met had vaccinosis a topic covered with wonderful skill, personal experience, and support in the books What Vets Don't Tell you About Vaccines and Shock to the System. Vaccinosis is more understood and accepted today in 2011, but in 1998 the only hope for those afflicted was avoidance of triggers and homeopathy. Its sad to me that what was misconstrued at adoption to be a lack of socialization, the meltdown in the spring following his vaccinations, and now seizures- after months of virus replication in his system from the vaccines might all have been avoided had his system not been overloaded in the first place.
In hindsite the answer seems easy in regards to his service dog status- retirement. I did not have the luxury of looking at things from a hindsite perspective though. With a, then slower paced lifestyle, I chose to try and gain control not knowing at the time that the cause was vaccinosis. I worked closely with my vet during the early medication adjustment months. Though occasional break throughs happened, they tended to happen at home. Through the help of the K9epilepsy group and Beyond Vaccination on yahoogroups, as well as EPIL-K9 I was able to discover many helps, answers to my questions, and a release for the anxiety I had been keeping pent up inside of me. As a result of the control we were able to achieve, we continued our partnership. By then I had a sedentery lifestyle so retirement was not a necessity for us. Met and I worked together close to another 9 years after that. It wasn't always filled with perfect control, but it was a wonderful decade of love, lessons learned and taught, and eventually of letting go.