Friday, August 24, 2012

Pay it Forward

 After staring at my computer screen from 5 AM until 5 PM yesterday and being visited at 3 AM by my worst enemy, the nasty migraine, I started to ask myself "Why?". My husband has been warning me for years that the computer screen is one of my enemies, in addition to MSG, lack of sleep, not eating enough, tannins, wine, beer, and on and on, all conspiring to attack me in the middle of the night.
I’ve been able to give up the long list when I’m not too lazy to read labels, but the computer screen is part of my life. So I guess I’d better just take breaks. The only problem has been that my idea of a break is to read a book on my Kindle, oops, another screen. Will I ever learn?
So why are we doing this, working feverishly trying to educate, to get the word out about how much service dogs can change lives? Liz, my daughter and partner in crime says she remembers my telling her when she was very little that with a brain like hers, she’d better contribute to society. So she ended up in research, and dragged me along to help her put her very complex ideas into words. Her mind works so fast that sometimes I think I might be one of the few people who can disentangle her thoughts. 
So we’ve been working together for what seems like forever. In fact forever isn’t really an exaggeration. When she wrote a book while in graduate school, we sent the chapters back and forth from the west to the east coasts via FEDEX. Email is really much more affordable and efficient. 
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the culture of paying it forward. About two years ago we had a flat tire on I-95 in the middle of the night. Someone stopped and changed it for us, wouldn’t accept any help from my husband, who was perfectly capable of changing it himself, and wouldn’t accept anything except a thank you.
Last Saturday we took a ride on our motor scooter and turned down a deserted road leading to Everglades National Park. A few miles off the main road we found a service van that had gotten stuck in the mud while trying to turn around. Some park rangers had stopped, but they didn’t have a clue as to how to free him from the mud. So, remembering the experience we had in Mexico when a bunch of workers came out of the fields and pushed our motor home out of a ditch, we told the useless rangers how to free the van and helped them push it out.
When we returned 20 minutes later, the van and the driver were still on the side of the road. So we helped him change his flat tire and sent him on his way. The entire episode took about three hours out of our afternoon, but, at the end of the day, my husband said to me “We had a great adventure.” 
Money really isn’t everything. If more people paid it forward, perhaps our country wouldn’t be so divided. We won’t make much from our service dog work. We’re trying to cover our expenses and pay for our time (It’s been 2 people, 2 years so far, at no pay.), but we will show people that they can improve their quality of life.
The webcast has been approved for continuing education credits for nurses. We’ve begun to work with the VA and will adapt it for others in the medical community. that we’ve spent the last eight months perfecting has finally been   Together we’ll all be able to help people who really need it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Let Our Game Begin

This is my 10 year old granddaughter's dog for all of us. The ear is for the autistic community, the eye is the same color as hers, the tongue looks like our Mikey dog, and the rest is just to make us happy. For the past 2 years my daughter Liz (Dr. Elisabeth Gruskin) and I have been working on our service dog project. We’ve been telling Sarah about everything the dogs can do and she’s been our biggest fan. Now she has to decide, will she be a veterinarian, an artist, or a beautician? Isn’t it nice to be 10?
We started this journey when Liz, who had been doing medical research on some very intense topics, met someone with a major facility to train service dogs. She had just started to work on service dogs for MS patients and Liz was fascinated. I was really excited because, after working with Liz on her grant proposals and papers for the past 20 years with very little interest in the content, I finally found a topic I could read for meaning, not just for sentence structure and punctuation.
The more we traveled  the country from service dog provider to meetings with the medical community to Multiple Sclerosis organizations, the more we realized how much these remarkable dogs could change the quality of life for so many. Service dogs can help people with way more than MS, ranging from PTSD to autism, from cancer to diabetes, from visual to physical handicaps, but awareness is sorely lacking.
Rather than pursue our original path, that of structured research, we concluded that we could make a more immediate difference with education. So we’ve been all over the place. Our websites and Facebook pages have opened eyes and started people talking. When someone called me to tell me that because of our website, he was about to get a service dog for his debilitating MS, I realized that we could accomplish something.
We have just completed Service Dogs 101, an Internet seminar to educate the medical community. We’ll go on to focus on spreading the word to the military community and medical insurers.  Hopefully, next time you see a service dog, you’ll understand what went into the training of the dog, how hard the dog and the human have had to work to form a team, and how much the dog has been helping its human partner.