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Open Doors - Summer 2013

SSD TJ: Balance on the Roller Coaster of Life

Women smiles at service dog

SSD TJ came into my life a few years after two miraculous cancer surgeries and being homebound for three years. Hershey Medical Center had recommended that I get an assistance dog for help with balance. Our journey together has not only been about physical balance but also emotional stability.

I remember vividly my first steps outside to bring in the mail with TJ. When we got back into the house, I put my arms around him and cried with joy. The sense of independence was so overwhelming.

TJ and I began going to physical therapy via the minibus. We also took a bus trip to Philadelphia to visit a museum. TJ could not fit underneath the seat, so he sat on the floor next to me. That was only the beginning of our road trips. Besides campgrounds and amusement parks, we took a road trip to the Smoky Mountains and recently visited family in South Carolina and Georgia. We are inseparable. TJ is known and welcomed everywhere we go—school, shopping, family events, doctors’ offices (where he is usually greeted before I am), church (he sleeps a lot there and sometimes snores—usually during the sermon). The list goes on and on.

He keeps me emotionally balanced during the roller coaster of life. I’ve had many physical setbacks resulting in numerous doctor visits, hospital stays, emergency surgeries, ambulance rides, and rehab. All my doctors tell me they can’t believe the change TJ has made in my life. Along with my faith, TJ helps keep me grounded.

TJ was by my side as I endured the physical deterioration and passing of both my parents. During the two years in the VA Hospice Unit, my dad and other patients looked forward to TJ’s visits. It was amazing to see the happiness TJ brought just by being there for a little while. One evening, a woman asked for TJ to visit her husband before we went to see my dad. She said her husband had been waiting all day to see TJ. Shortly after TJ’s visit, her husband passed away.

My parents adored TJ—he was their therapy dog, too. As they reached their final days, TJ would go and lay his head on the bed or put his paws into their hands, and then lay down quietly next to the bed. People at the nursing home commented to me about his somber demeanor at the time. After the visits, he would cuddle up with me as I had a good cry at home.

I’ve recently learned that I need more surgery. I know that with the grace of God and TJ by my side, I will make it through.

TJ is also wonderful with our grandchildren. We have ten now, and the most recent one was born on Easter Sunday. Six are four years old or younger. I’ll never forget the day that Hope (who is now six) made a big announcement. Grasping TJ by a certain physical attribute, she exclaimed, “Look, grandma. TJ is a boy!”

One of my favorite memories is when I was shopping at Giant. I dropped TJ’s leash as I looked at an item. Suddenly, I heard a man say, “Do you see that? If there were my dog, he’d be over cleaning out the meat counter by now.” I looked down to see TJ calmly sitting there, holding his leash in his mouth.

TJ is a Godsend. He does what he was trained to do but has also alerted to oncoming seizures and diabetic issues that need immediate attention. I am so grateful to SSD for training and teaming me with his absolutely awesome dog. TJ, and all of you, have made a huge difference in my life!

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