The day I met Addie
On June 8th, 2013 (exactly 4 years ago today!) Kyle and I went to the humane society to pick out our first dog together. I had spent weeks looking on their website at the dogs so I thought I had a general idea of which dogs I wanted to meet. I did not think I wanted a pitbull. I never had anything against them but I didn’t have much experience with them and I was always told that they were too strong for me to handle. We met the first dog on my list (who oddly was named Macey by the shelter) and things just didn’t click. The volunteer continued to show us a few other dogs but we just weren’t sure. On the way to see another dog I noticed this frightened little pitbull puppy laying on her kennel floor shaking and I insisted the volunteer let me go in and see her next. The volunteer told us that the pitbull’s name was Iris but that she was very scared and wouldn’t recommend her. But Kyle knew I was already sold. He now says she was the most pathetic thing at the shelter so he knew the second I saw her that that’s the one we’d be taking home. The volunteer wasn’t kidding about Iris being a terrified little girl. But it seemed this frightened puppy fell in love with me the same instant that I fell in love with her. She let me approach her at the cage and loved my attention and then walked so well for me on a leash.
We heard Iris’s sad story from the volunteer about how she had been born at the shelter because her parents were taken from their owners by animal control. The owners had refused to have the mother fixed and let the two dogs breed repeatedly. The owners would simply drop the unwanted puppies off at the shelter. After the fifth pregnancy, Animal control stepped in and Iris’s litter was born at the humane society. Iris had been adopted for a short time but returned after she had been mistreated because “she was too rough when she played with their older dogs.” She was a puppy! What were they expecting? The shelter seemed to think these things made her unadoptable and that she was on a long road before she could trust people again. But I didn’t believe that for a second. She was simply a scared puppy who had lived her short 7 months of life in a shelter and never had a true safe home. So I had decided that her home was going to be with us (which Kyle now says was the best decision I have ever made and I agree.) We renamed her Addie which stands for cute and loveable, how right we were.
Looking back on the photos of Addie from the day we brought her home it’s truly hard to believe that she is the same dog. As much as I loved Addie immediately, early life with her did not come easy. She truly was afraid of everything and did not want to be alone. At first, Kyle said no dogs in the bed so that first night we put her in her crate to sleep. She bawled all night. By 4am I was out sleeping with her on the couch and we snuggled ourselves to sleep. On the second night it didn’t take long for Kyle to say “okay” she can come and sleep in bed with us. And what would you know, she went right to sleep curled up with me (and has every night for the last four years).
Best Friends from the Start
It was immediately obvious that she had pretty severe abandonment and separation anxiety. Her first experience in her crate while Kyle and I were both at work did not go well. She used her strength and her forehead to smash, bend, and break the door off the crate in an attempt to find us. I came home to quite the mess and we learned crating was not going to work. Her first trip to the vet a few days after adoption showed that she had severe yeast infections in her nail beds from chewing on them so much due to anxiety, a severe UTI, A LOT of allergies and that she was quite underweight. I think she spent most of those first six months with us on some type of antibiotic. When I say she was afraid of everything, I mean everything. Balloons, loud noises, baby strollers -those first few months we would have to cross the street if a baby stroller was coming because she would cower in fear! She did not like most men (other than Kyle). My poor brother in law babysat Addie one day while I was working and she did nothing but bark at him for FOUR hours straight. Her former adopter was a large man so we think it stems from that. She is good with most men now unless she is left alone with them. But she will not react or bark at anyone if she has her vest on or is working for me.
Addie became immediately attached to me (and obviously I to her). When we first brought her home I had just started working again after many months off following surgery. I basically spent all the time I wasn’t working with Addie. By November of that year I became too sick to work anymore but had no idea what was wrong or why I was so ill. I had such a vast list of symptoms and issues but at that time every doctor seemed to want them all to fit into one condition. When I had to stop working I was pretty crushed. I had no idea when I would be able to work again or what was wrong with me and neither did my doctors. I was depressed and overwhelmed but I had Addie. I was suddenly able to spend 24/7 with her. Her anxiety got so much better and in the months that followed she truly became my very best friend. She was always there when I was too sick to leave the bed or the nights I spent on the bathroom floor because I couldn’t stop puking. I wasn’t even able to take a bath without her laying beside the tub.
Looking back now her actions make a lot more sense, she had figured out what was wrong before my doctors did. She was already so in tune with my body but we hadn’t caught on to her skills yet. She had already decided her job was to take care of me and that immediately improved her anxiety. Having a chronic illness and being stuck at home for weeks at a time can be lonely. But having her around all the time stopped me from falling into depression. Thanks to Addie (and now Pip and Mia as well) I’ve never spent any time at home truly alone.
Becoming a Service Dog
In March of 2014 we finally made the move to Virginia. It was a big move. Kyle got a new job so we picked up our life and moved south. The never ending health search continued and by August I finally had one diagnosis – Gastroparesis. It seems crazy to think now that my problems with gastroparesis really started in August 2010 after my appendectomy but no one thought to do a simple gastric emptying study until we moved here. We thought gastroparesis was going to be the only diagnosis but by October I started fainting and my gastroenterologist knew there was more to come.
The first time I fainted I was home alone with Addie and I woke up to find that she had placed her body between me and the wall so I didn’t smack my head. She was licking my face to wake me up. That day something seemed to click in Addie and she suddenly started to bark at me or force me to stay seated by laying across me. At first we were not sure what was going on but by the end of November I was diagnosed with four more conditions: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Common Variable Immunodeficiency, Generalized Dysautonomia and the one that explained all of Addie’s behavior, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
Because of my Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (or POTS for short) when I stand up gravity causes my blood to go to my feet, a symptom called pooling. When this happens my heart doesn’t get enough blood to pump through my body so it starts pumping faster, causing my heart rate to rise and my blood pressure to plummet. This cascade of physiological events drains enough blood from my brain that after just a few seconds of standing I lose consciousness and faint. But Addie is so smart she is able to sense the change in my heart rate and blood pressure and alert me to sit down before I faint. This isn’t a skill that can really be taught to dogs, they either have it or they don’t. And just like that Addie became my service dog. After we figured out what she was doing we continued to do more training with her so she had even more service dog skills. Her new job seemed to make her anxiety completely disappear. She had a purpose. And that purpose was to take care of me.
Overcoming the Pitbull Stereotype
Training Addie was the easy part for us. The hard part was dealing with the preconceived notions about pitbulls. This is something we had become used to since we adopted Addie but when she became my service dog it got much worse. Addie was now allowed to go everywhere with me and people who don’t like pitbulls think that is wrong and she is a danger. People would make comments about how “they didn’t know dangerous breeds could be service dogs” or they would tell me that Addie is scary or that pitbulls are dangerous. To some people it doesn’t seem to matter that Addie saves my life every day, they still only think of the stereotypes they’ve heard. I’m sad for those people because they are truly missing out on the chance to have an incredible, loyal dog. It’s ironic when people approach us while Addie is sitting nicely and their non-“dangerous breed” is acting like an idiot, barking, tugging, and snapping. In the years that followed my POTS has gotten much worse but Addie has saved me from so many injuries simply by being herself.
She may not be able to talk (although she does try haha) but she shows me how much she loves me every day. In the last three years Addie and I have only spent 3 nights apart. The bond I have with her is one I truly cannot explain. She knows exactly what’s going on with my body even when I don’t. She’s the most loyal wonderful friend I’ve ever had. She’s there for me every day and every night. She sleeps on my feet at night so she knows if I get up and crawls out of bed no matter how deep of a sleep she was in to follow me to the bathroom. She stays beside me on the days my head feels like it’s going to explode. She lays across my body to make sure I don’t get up on the days my body is the weakest. She lays on the floor at my feet no matter where I am. She kisses my face to wake me up after I faint. She snuggles with me during every single IVIG and watches my nurses like a hawk every time they come near me. When I pass out she calls for help no matter where I am or what time it is and doesn’t take her eyes off of me until Kyle comes.
Every time my body does something unexpected or scary -like my new idiopathic angioedema attacks- she’s right there. She doesn’t judge me when I am too sick to shower. She doesn’t question “how sick I really am.” She truly knows me and my broken body better than I know myself. She lends her body as a sturdy support when I need to stand up from the ground or when I get dizzy and need something to lean on. She doesn’t ask for anything in return other than snuggles and love. If I’m sleeping, she’s sleeping. If I’m awake, she’s awake. She tries to snuggle the pain away every day and even reminds me when it’s time for the rats to get more food or she needs to take her medicine (she takes supplements for her joints). When I’m out places and my POTS causes me to get over stimulated or things are too loud she calms me. Most people don’t notice the subtle things she does for me. They don’t know that she lays her head on my lap in public when I’m stressed. Or how she sits directly on my feet in stores or elevators so the pressure helps my circulation so I don’t faint. Or the way she headbutts my knee to tell me that I need to sit down immediately to avoid a fainting episode. Or how she walks nicely beside my wheelchair (even though she was once terrified of baby strollers). When she wears her service vest she knows play time is over and it is time to work. You may notice when she gets upset if I ignore her alerts for too long. She whimpers and then barks until I do as she says. She’s not being bad or acting out, she’s doing her job. She’s telling me that I need to listen to her so I don’t end up injured or worse.
A Selfless Giver
One of the best examples of how selfless Addie is when we take her to the dog park. She loves the dog park as much and maybe more than other dogs because she knows it is the one place where she doesn’t have to work and she can do whatever she wants. Even at the dog park she won’t stray too far from me and is always turning around to check on me and how I’m doing. If she gets too far away she will stop and wait for me to catch up, even if her new dog friends are pestering her to play with them instead.
I thoroughly believe that you can never judge a dog by how they are in the shelter or even how they are the first few days after coming home. The shyest, most frightened dog can end up turning into a confident, silly, loving dog when placed in the right atmosphere. This is also why fostering is so important because it gives shelter dogs a chance to get used to normal homes and keeps them out of the shelter environment while waiting for their forever home. If I had judged Addie by the way she looked and acted that day four years ago or even the following few weeks I would have missed out on so much. I would have missed out on having my best friend. I would have missed out on finding the little lady who would save me daily as my own body turned against me. I would have missed out on the constant love and happiness she gives me that has been one of the most important things that pulled me through the last four long years. If you ever have a chance to rescue or foster, please do! You will have the chance to change the life of an innocent animal and I’m positive it will change your life as well!
I don’t think anyone deserves the constant admiration, dedication and love that a dog gives. There is no doubt in my mind God had a lot to do with me choosing Addie because he knew how much we needed each other. I’m incredibly thankful that I “took a chance” on that scared puppy because now I have the most incredibly loving companion and service dog. All Addie needed was love and patience and she’s now one of the most incredible dogs I’ve ever met. People always ask me how I am able to remain so happy which such a positive outlook while battling all these illnesses and I know having my silly Addie has a lot to do with it. It’s hard to be anything but happy when she is around and lucky for me I get her 24/7. I may have rescued her that day but now she rescues me every single day.