Many of you know that my daughter has a darling service dog, Emelia. We have traveled all over the country with her. Emelia is a wonderful traveler, and we always enjoy the times we have with her as she experiences a world outside of our home and love spreading the word of Emelia’s value to Kelsey as a service dog. Many people wonder what service dogs do for people with physical disabilities. They are trained to retrieve items out of reach, open doors, pull up hills, turn on light switches, and a variety of useful other things that make Kelsey’s life just a bit easier. We received Emelia from Canine Companions for Independence, a wonderful organization that breeds and trains amazing dogs for people with a variety of disabilities.
Last week , our family, including Emelia, headed out to Governor Dodge State Park to do some camping in Wisconsin. It was going to be our only vacation this year, and we had been looking forward to it for months. Unfortunately, within 24 hours of our arrival, my daughter, Kelsey, had taken ill, and we suspected she was having a shunt malfunction. A shunt is a device that drains spinal fluid from the brain into the abdomen.
When it isn’t working correctly, it is incredibly difficult to see my daughter suffer through terrible headaches with pain that she tells me in beyond belief. So, we packed ourselves up and headed back to Chicago, going straight to the Emergency Room at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Throughout it all, Emelia, traveled along. While Emelia has had incredible training and has been such a help to Kelsey, she showed her true value during this rough time, not just as a service dog, but as a true friend and companion.
Kelsey has been in the hospital many times, having many surgeries, and being back in the hospital is very difficult for her. Her blood pressure rises, and she becomes anxious at the thought of going through another procedure. Emelia sensed Kelsey’s anxiety, and climbed up in the Emergency Room bed with her, getting as close to her as she could. We watched the monitors as Kelsey’s heart rate returned to normal, and her fears started to subside. Emelia wouldn’t leave Kelsey’s side. She stayed in bed with her, went with her through her CT scans and Xrays, and even went as far as the pre-surgical room before surgery. She rested her head across Kelsey’s lap and always let Kelsey know that she was there. She was gentle and sweet, looking into Kelsey’s eyes, almost willing her to be well.
When the time came for Kelsey to go into surgery, Emelia reluctantly jumped off her bed, but throughout the hours she waited during Kelsey’s surgery, she looked for her repeatedly. She kept watch at the waiting room door, waiting for Kelsey to return. After surgery, we took Emelia back to Kelsey’s room. She quickened her step as she padded through the hospital halls, glancing into each room, searching for Kelsey. When we reached the room, she pulled on her leash, as she wanted to be with her friend, trying to get back on the bed so that she could be close and comforting once again. While Kelsey was resting, Emelia rested her head on Kelsey’s stomach, or slept at her feet. She watched over Kelsey, and waited for her to return to her usual self.
Emelia did this for the next day, all day, as Kelsey slowly returned to normal. As Kelsey began to sit up again, Emelia showered her with doggie kisses and excitedly welcomed her back. As I witnessed Kelsey and Emelia, I realized that not only was this service dog an assistant and companion, but she is Kelsey’s angel.
The experience I watched with Kelsey and Emelia transcended the images we typically have of service dogs; as stoic creatures ever ready to assist with daily living skills. I was fortunate to see her real value to Kelsey, as a loving friend who, by her mere presence, could calm Kelsey’s fears and provide comfort that the rest of us couldn’t. I’ve been thankful for every day that Emelia has been in Kelsey’s life, and after this experience, feel blessed that Emelia has chosen Kelsey as her forever friend.
If you'd like to learn more about service dogs, and Canine Companions, in particular, click here.