Blessing – A New Beginning
by Shiela Henry
In order to describe what my wonderful assistance dog has done for me, I must relate the story of our beginning as a team. Originally a show dog with many awards and working titles to her credit, Blessing, the wonderful Collie dog, became my partner. Some might call our match as a team pure chance, but I certainly don’t. I feel that much credit belongs to all those dedicated people involved with the Assistance Dog Program.
Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985 at the age of 37, my husband, Mike, and I fight a never-ending battle. When I was told that I have a form of the disease called “exasperation- remission,” we knew it would take its toll, no matter how hard we tried to slow its progression. The last “exasperation” left me with an extreme lack of balance, weak hips (particularly the right), great fatigue, and a terrible fear of falling. I had fallen so often in public that I couldn’t force myself to venture out alone.
One momentous day, I read a short note in the National Multiple Sclerosis Newsletter in which an Assistance Dog partner described how her dog was helping her. An incredible feeling of relief seemed to fill every part of my being. I knew in my soul that here was the answer to many hours of heartfelt prayer. Eagerly, I contacted the Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York, publishers of the newsletter. This organization, which had furnished me with a wealth of information over the years, now directed me to the Delta Society in Washington state. There, too, a very knowledgeable person gave me further, excellent information. I was getting more and more excited. Finally, my search ended when I met Eva and Leslie Rappaport, owners of Kings Valley Collies near Corvallis, Oregon.
I still remember the happy thoughts that skipped through my mind after our first get-together: “I am about to enter a new world! I’m open, I’m ready!” After that, Mike and I made many automobile trips from our small rural community of Dayton, to work with Eva and Leslie at Kings Valley, about 60 miles away.
At first, I was matched up with a handsome, adolescent, tricolor male but after a few work sessions and considerable soul- searching by Eva and Leslie, we all agreed that a mature female would make a better suited partner for me. I was introduced to Blessing, a beautiful blue merle Collie with colors of white black, gray, and gold splashed – as if with a paint brush – about her lovely, full coat. She was bred, raised, and trained by two caring, talented individuals who developed in her the skills that are so helpful to me now. Her personality fits mine. She calms my fears by surveying new situations before allowing us to go forward. Her deliberate, experienced guidance allows me to move with confidence in all situations. Her protective, yet friendly nature often overrides my tendency to make quick – and sometimes faulty – decisions.
After eleven years with multiple sclerosis as my unrelenting companion, I now look forward to life with my great new blessing, — Blessing in harness at my side, facing the future together. Because multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease, I divide my life into good or bad days. On the bad ones, we don’t venture too far from home. Those are the days when I am most likely to fall, but I can count on Blessing to be there for me: in our own special way, she will allow me to lean on her strong shoulders, and then she will lift me up.
Now, after several year of living as an almost total recluse, Blessing and I go to the store and the restaurant, or to visit a friend, without the fear that had always been with me.On our walks,Blessing not only gives me support but reacts when my gait becomes uneven or my posture unbalanced. She reminds me, like any good physical therapist, to keep my body in proper alignment. Whenever she feels that I am unsteady, she looks back over her shoulder. If I fail to respond, she becomes increasingly insistent on straightening me out.
Mike and several close friends helped me to see my own uneven movement; now understood at last what Blessing had been trying to tell me. Finally, I realized that when I concentrate on walking correctly, with my cane on the left and Blessing on the right, Blessing does not turn. The more I concentrate, the less she turns to admonish me.
My doctor recently commented on my greatly improved walking pattern. The credit goes entirely to Blessing! In just five months since we began to work as an independent team, my life style has improved dramatically. Blessing has lived up to her name. She is a
true blessing to me, and she is now in my life for good.
Read more about Blessing in a news story about Shiela and Blessing, published in the McMinnville News-Register.