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Neelix's Journey


Late in 2015 it was brought to my attention by my health care providers that my health was failing. The medications I was taking for my vertigo spells were no longer working and the spells were getting worse. Born with a rare condition of the ear that affects balance, hearing, the bone structures and nerves of the ears; I knew it would come to this one day and that my condition would continue to fail but never thought it would get so bad that the medical community would run out of ideas to ease the condition. On top of this, I was also diagnosed with meineres disease, which causes extreme vertigo, more hearing loss and balance issues. My two issues combined I was pretty miserable. It was my family doctor that mentioned that a service dog might be a great benefit to me. He explained how he had read about service dogs being trained to alert to vertigo spells. This got me thinking and I began to research service dogs. Months of searching and being turned down for multiple different organizations that train service dogs (a lot will not train for multiple issues such as hearing mobility)… I finally came across a local organization called “Paws 4 Independence”. From the first phone call, I was opened into the “family” with open arms. The trainer was excited to have me aboard and more than willing to help me train the perfect service dog for all my needs. I started attending weekly training classes and watching the other members of the “family” train with their dogs. I started a go fund me page to raise funds for my own dogs training. (Service dog training is costly and while our program is cheaper than most, I still had/have a lot to pay). I learned that Paws 4 Independence is one of the only organizations of its type in our area. Paws 4 Independence is an owner trained based program. That means dogs are placed with the owner at a young age and you train together, this creates a stronger bond between human and dog and you can train your dog for your specialized needs. After months of saving up money and watching others train with their dogs, picking up on basic commands and skills, I was told by the head trainer they had found a puppy that matched my needs. (Puppies are screened by the trainers for their temperament and willingness to train.) In Feb. of 2016 I was matched with a male puppy from a local breeder that was a mix of German Shepherd, Border Collie and Golden Retriever.  I named the puppy Neelix. And so began our journey to becoming a service dog. From the start Neelix was a handful. I was overwhelmed and not sure what I got myself into! At first he did not even know how to walk on a leash! He wasn’t even potty trained! The first few weeks of our relationship was working on the basics; how to walk on a leash, how not to potty in the house, how not to bite the hand of the one who feeds you and sit. We attended class two times a week for two hours at a time, plus lots of training at home as well. Neelix proved to be a smart pup and after a few weeks was fully potty trained and picking up quickly on basic skills. We continued our classes twice a week adding new commands such as down, stay and wait. To everyone’s surprise Neelix started picking up on my vertigo spells on his own! (I found out this is rare and some dogs never pick up on this). I learned to listen to his cues (which at first I thought he was just hyper and jumping around cause he is a puppy..).. and started to teach him to paw at my legs when I was about to have an attack. Months passed and in April of 2016 Neelix took a Caine Good Citizen test. This was a huge deal for us and we practiced for weeks before we felt we were truly ready. This test sees if dogs are ready to be in public. It tests the good manners and basic skills of a dog. It is the different between a prospect service dog and a service dog in training. I was shocked when Neelix passed his test on the first try! (A lot of dogs take more than one time!). Neelix earned his title as service dog in training. This gave him his “vest” and allowed him to train out in public with our organization. The following months we continued going to class and also had public outings with our “family”. Neelix continued to gain new skills such as learning how to tuck under tables, how to push buttons to open doors and how to behave in a public setting. That brings us to today. Neelix still has a lot of training to do. He is still considered a service dog in training and will continue to be till he fully grasps 3 full tasks for me. (Even though he will know more by the time we are finished).. We continue to grow as a team and he shocks me weekly by learning new skills to help me. We currently are working on laundry, alerting to sounds and picking up medication bottles. Soon he will start training in counter balancing and pulling (he has to be 18 months and cleared by a vet before I can put weight on him).  I feel so blessed to have him in my life and could not imagine it without him. I can not wait to see what the future brings us and how he continues to grow.

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