I first encountered a service dog accompanying a person with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) three years ago. I had met my friend and fellow FARA ambassador Andrea and she had her beautiful black Lab, Ramada, with her. I could tell right away that Ramada was more than just a well-behaved pet because of the blue canvas vest she wore warning passers-by not to pet her. While it feels counterintuitive not to pat a dog, the rule is necessary to prevent the animal from becoming distracted from assisting its companion.
While I’d heard of service dogs and guide dogs for the visually impaired, I wasn’t aware of the existence of service dogs for people with ataxia. As I watched Ramada pick up items that Andrea had dropped — one effect of FA is a lack of hand coordination — and observed the dog’s obedient and comforting presence at her side, I made a decision.
I wanted a service dog.
My plan surprised me. I have never found it easy to ask for help — I prefer stubbornness.
I don’t know why I thought I was ready to apply for a service dog, but I was sure of my choice. With no idea where to start, I Googled “service dogs for ataxia.” One of the first results I clicked on seemed promising. I contacted Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which offers service dogs for people with special needs, and even for veterans of the armed forces. The organization provides the dogs at no cost to approved applicants.
I encourage you to check out the organization’s YouTube channel to find out more about their amazing work.
Join the Friedreich’s Ataxia News forums: an online community for people with FA and their caregivers.
My application in 2017 was approved, and I attended an in-person interview in 2018. I was accepted, put on a waitlist, and told that it could take up to two years before I would receive a dog.
I recently received a phone call telling me I was to attend training at the end of this month. I will meet my dog and train with him or her for two weeks. Following graduation, I will be permitted to take my new canine companion home with me.
I have little information about the dog with which I will be placed; I don’t even know its sex. I have an idea of the breed as CCI uses Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and crosses of the two.
The wait is incredibly exciting. I don’t know you yet, my canine companion, but I will try my hardest to give you a good life. You will be loved. I hope you like me. I can’t wait to meet you.
Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.