21 July 2011

A Decade of Difference

This post is for the Fourth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. For more information on what the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC) is see the post,  About the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival at the After Gadget blog.

When I first heard the topic for this carnival, The Difference, I could think of a lot of subjects to write on almost immediately. I wanted this posting however, to take on a different theme than my previous one did which focused on the medical heart-break in my life with my first service dog Chimette (Met). I also did not want to focus on comparing the differences between my two combo trained service dogs, Chimette and Thane. I had began a post sharing about the two different sides of me- the pre service dog me, and the post service dog me. It just never went anywhere though. I realized the reason- it is that I am meant to share the medical lessons my dogs teach me with the assistance dog community- so here goes...

My boys have both been exceptional service dogs. Each one has taught me things about myself, particularly in my ability to persevere through trials that no team should ever have to endure. In this entry, I hope to not focus so much on the actual medical *drama* side of the equation, but in the difference in which I have responded to/ handled it because of the opportunities that differ for me today, over a decade after Chimette's journey into the unknown began.

Thane was to be my new start; a healthy start. I had huge dreams of how different things would be- where we would go, things we would accomplish. Though many of my dreams have come to pass over the past three years we have been together, not everything has been as I anticipated it would be.

When Chimette began having seizures, I was a basket case. I was a babe in terms of internet access and certainly was not racing to google to find research or to yahoogroups or other forum sites to find lists for support, information, and stability in his condition. All of this came later. It came because Met was not an easy case to find answers for. It came because I was not ready to quit seeking answers when vets felt we had achieved about the best anyone could hope for- especially when having two of the most difficult breeds to control when it came to canine seizures, in one body.

Though I had the support of people walking the same or similar paths as me, had research to cling to, had answers to the causes of canine seizures, and even discovered that Met's problem was vaccinosis; our partnership changed the very moment I witnessed his first seizure. It became one where stress and concern for Met's stability left me always asking myself what impact doing various access outings would have on Met, rather than one where I just headed out to do my errand without a care in the world.

Recently, after chasing symptoms for over a year and a half, Thane was diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease. It was a bombshell to put it mildly. Had it not been for my good friend Sharon at the After Gadget blog being so proactive about the presence of Lyme Disease *EVERYWHERE*, I might have never tested Thane. Though it was one of the hardest things I have had to face in a very long time, I found myself recently looking at how differently I reacted to not only Thane's official diagnosis, but his first seizure that told me something was very wrong.

When Thane had his first seizure, a partial one, I did not trust myself. What I mean is, it was so small that had I not had the decade of living with seizures before, I might never have realized what I was witnessing. With Met, I can still tell you the day and time of his very first seizure. I tried hard to pretend his seizure did not happen- that if I ignored what I witnessed, it would just be as though it was a sleeping nightmare and that would be the end of it. With Thane, I did not even write the date down, though I know it happened within a week of when I got online and placed an order for Taurine for him. Before placing that order, I also did a bit of research to determine which road of supplementation I should try with him. With Met, I never would have considered such a thing or trusted myself to make an informed decision.

There is another very big difference between my dealings of my two boys- for Met, I was always worried- always stressing over him. I know it placed an enormously unhealthy amount of pressure not just on my own health, but on Met's as well. In the first few months with Thane in my life, I made things pretty stressful too, but a read on the impact of stress in the book Shock to the System by Catherine O'Driscoll seemed to nip that in the bud. I won't say that I was not panicked when I got Thane's diagnosis. This would be an outright falsehood. This time would be different I told myself. I was not going to let long-term unnecessary and unhealthy stress impact our future.

I already had some very good resources which I gathered in my attempts to point another person with a Lyme positive dog in the right direction. All that was left was to begin to apply them to my own life- to Thane. I got a crash course from Sharon in Lyme Disease over that weekend following the positive test results. Over a decade ago, this kind of education would have been unthinkable. I don't think we realize just how lucky we are to live where we do, in the decade we live, until something like this happens.

Though I had a couple horrible days in my fight to help Thane recently, and though I learned some even harder news that pointed towards an impact on the liver after under two weeks on meds, I am more equipped with Thane to handle what may come our way without putting an undauntingly high amount of stress on either of our immune systems.

Today, I don't know what the future will hold for Thane and I. He may be treated effectively and work a long productive career. I know however, that realistically we may not have the duration I would love to have, that any team would love to have, simply because Lyme Disease causes immune dysfunction even in the best of cases where long term health complications could side-line this team permanently. With Met, such a prospect would have sent me into a *frozen* state of panic merely by considering crossing the street without my right-hand man. Today that would not be the case.Today I have the skill and resources I need to navigate in public solo, when the circumstances warrant it.

A decade ago, or even during the last few years of my partnership with Met, retirement would have been the biggest *unthinkable* possibility. Today I have high hopes for Thane and I, but at the same time, I have a bigger sense of realism. I know in all likelihood, one of the impacted systems in his body, will tell me/ us that despite how awesome Thane is at his job or even how hard it would be to ask him to step down, that it could very well happen, it could be the right call, the one that shows the love I have for him.

I choose to only think about the day before us. It's one day where, when we wake up in the morning, I will have or will be able to seek out the tools that give Thane the best options for a positive come back. I never felt this way with Met. I always looked to the future in the sense that, until the last month of his life, I never contemplated our partnership from what was the right call for Met, but instead from what was the right call for Karyn.

This time it's different. Thane is mostly side lined at the moment as we work with a specialist to find not only the right drug regimen to eradicate his Lyme Disease, but to work on healing his liver. One day in the not to distant future, I strongly believe that this living nightmare that we are walking through, will become a passing memory of which many lessons have been learned.

If you come away from this with nothing else, my hope is that you will not only realize that Lyme Disease is not only a North-East USA disease, but that it's a disease your service dog should be tested for annually- even if you live in the Pacific Northwest, in Hawaii, in Australia. If you come away believing that Lyme Disease is just as important to test for as Heartworm, then Thane and I will have made a difference in your lives.


  1. Good post. Yes, I have such a different perspective on things now than I did before. I know Barnum is not going to be the amazing SD Gadget was, but I also am less rushed and stressed to train him, which is strange because I'm more disabled now than when I got Jersey or Gadget. But I have a LOT more human help, too. This has reminded me, also, I still have to tick=check Barnum and myself before bed!

  2. Thanks for your comment. I too found I am so different in my training speed- not just because of my health, but some of it was actually intentional- assuring I really learned other methods and used them besides being so dependent on my dog like I was with Met- too dependent to function when Met died.
    It's served me well as when Thane collapsed, had I not insisted on this for myself, I would have been right back where I was when Met died.
    I'm not doing so well with tick checks though- it's not just about getting into the routine, but when I am done for the day, my hands are also often very numb (beyond my normal sensory loss) which makes feeling anything abnormal on him just well- you are kidding right! I'm learning to do the basic areas and where his tick was that I blew it on (can't we just have a do over of that fateful day in June 2009!)in the evening and then doing a better check the next morning- but honestly sometimes I am in such a hurry to get up and get his med in him that even that is limited at best. Ahhh to have time to do EVERYTHING I want and still be functional smile