Assistance dogs: When it’s time to say goodbye.

It’s funny, I have always been careful about not posting too many sad posts and always having a good mix while sharing lessons, stories and everything in between.

But unfortunately, this week was perhaps the hardest week I have ever had to endure.

A lot of disabled folk have four-legged helpers. Assistance dogs, guide dogs, service animals you name it. They play such in important part in our disability journey.

They are by your side on the worst days, and by your side on the good days. They are with you when your condition deteriorates, and you can bet they will be there to help you with whatever you need.

Their love is unconditional, and they show that by being with you and always helping you. They are your constant, your best friend, the love of your life almost.

What happens when that time comes for them to cross the rainbow bridge? A piece of you goes with them.

How you manage disability life is changed forever. You can’t call on them to help you when you fall, to provide weight therapy, to pick up your tv remote you keep dropping, to take off those socks that you can’t pull off yourself. You have to find somehow a way to do it yourself.

A piece of your independence goes with them. You feel lost, scared, alone, and vulnerable.

When it is time, you know that the best thing you can do for them is offer them the same thing they offered you your entire life. Help. They look at you, asking for help. To make the pain go away, to make it stop. So even though it is beyond excruciating for you, you know that by helping them, you show them how much you love them.

You sit there and thank them for their loyal and unwavering service to you, for the love they showed you when you felt the world was falling apart around you. You tell them that it is okay, that they did so well, that you are so grateful and that you love them.

You tell them you will be okay, even though you have no idea how you will be able to manage the things they did for you.

I genuinely believe that your service animals are with you in the season in your life they are meant to. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later than what was designed. They came into your life for a purpose. They perhaps pulled you out of a dark hole in your life and instantly made you feel like you could take on the world as long as they were by your side.

They are more than just pets to us. They are our freedom, but most importantly, they are our family.

The time will come when they have to leave this world for the next one. But when they do, hold them tight and know they will always be with you. You may not see them, but they are still there and will most certainly be by the side of whoever comes to help you find a new way to manage disability life whether that be human or animal.

Opening that door to your room the first morning they are gone, feels like an impossible task. Because you know when you do, your new ‘normal’ begins. When you have to figure out how to wander around your house without them, to figure out how you will pick up the measuring cups you just dropped on the floor making pancakes.

You wait and hold off as long as you can because it’s like you can trick yourself into thinking they are still waiting by the door for you. But at some stage, you have no other option but to open that door and step into that new normal and whatever that brings.

But you repeat on a loop that you aren’t alone. They are with you. They would want you to continue to live life, find someone or something that makes you feel happy again in time, and keep living life as if they were here because you owe it to them to keep going. If you don’t and you stay behind that door, all that they did to get you to where you are now is for nothing.

Let their legacy be strength, unconditional love, hope, resilience, fun, playfulness, trust. Everything that you need to give to others every minute of every day.

My Milly will forever live on in my heart, and the scar I proudly wear on my wrist she gave me as a puppy. She was my little helper, my best friend, who was always there when I needed her.

The first night I met her, she clung to my side. She was the first to me when I called the litter, and she gravitated towards me when we saw her siblings at the pet shop ready to be sold. She was the daughter of my Aunt and Uncle’s two Border Collies. And the connection was instant. She came into my life when I was grieving my other dog, Maverick, and when I was struggling to comprehend my ever-changing disability.

She saw me through grade 7, my scoliosis surgery and rehab, High school, Uni, the start of Living Abled when it was a blog and then turned into a business, through death, loss, and uncertainty. She showed unwavering love and loyalty. She got me through the most difficult 13 years of my life.

I know it will take time to heal and to grieve. I know it will take time not to call her name instinctively when I drop something. I know it will take time not to turn around and expect to see her looking at me. It will take time to embrace this new normal. But I have to open the door because she would want me to. I want to join her desperately, but I know she wouldn’t want that either, even though she would be wagging that tail like crazy. I will do everything for her and face whatever is to come the way she faced her last day on this earth with strength, courage, and bravery.

It’s never goodbye, it’s see you soon.

I will see you soon, my beautiful baby girl. I love you. Forever and always.

Rhi. x

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