As my friend, Ebony, mentioned in one of her blog posts, when you have a wheelchair, it can be harder to make friends. For me, the hardest part is I’m afraid that people might look at me on the outside instead of truly getting to know my heart and me as a person. Put this on top of being an introvert, and it can be even harder. 12 years ago, I met one golden retriever who didn’t see my disability, but saw my heart from the moment she met me. I applied for a service dog at a place called Canine Assistants in Alpharetta, Georgia. It took 5 years. I am, for the most part, a patient person, and I have always been. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, but the little child in me did not know if she could wait that long. I soon forgot I’d even applied until my mom got the call when I was 11. I would turn 12 in January of 2002, and get my dog, Sandy, that summer. When they called she was a little skeptical about getting a dog. My little sister, Desiree, would be 1 that March, and I would soon be going in for another surgery after I got Sandy. She almost told Canine Assistants, “Not this year.” She knew, though, how long I had waited, and that I would be so disappointed. Then, my birthday came around the next year, on January 7th, 2002. One of the birthday presents that really meant the most that year was a Build A Bear from my little sister, Cheree. It was a stuffed golden retriever. “I named it Sandy.” she said. I guess you could say that God was speaking to her. The day finally came. My family and I headed to Georgia for a one week training camp. The dogs were already a year and pretty much fully trained, but now, it was my turn, along with all the other owners. We had to learn the 90 different commands, sit through lectures, and work with the dogs. Then, we had to pick our top 3 dogs that we liked, and that we thought worked best with us. Canine Assistants would go from there, and pick the dog that they thought would best fit our personality. My top 3 dogs were named LJ, Sandy, and Alice. Can you guess which one they gave me? After we got our dogs, we started going on outings to get both our dogs and us used to going out together. One of my most favorite memories that still makes me smile to this day was when my sister, Cheree, and I would get on the bus, and every time we got on we would sing this song with a lady who had a dog named Ginger. We would sing, “On the road again, we just can’t wait to get on the road again, with our dogs.” One time, we had gotten back from a mall trip with new Build A Bears, and we added to our song: “With our dogs and our Build A Bears.” Sandy hardly left my side after training camp. She was in the hospital with me when I had my surgery, (except she couldn’t go in the operating room.) she went on tons of trips to the library with my best friend, Briana, and I while our sisters were in gymnastics, she went on trips out of the state, she went to art classes with me, she even went to church with us. Then, one day, in 2014, Sandy got sick. she wasn’t herself, she didn’t want to eat,and when she did eat, she threw up a lot. I emailed Canine Assistants vet, Kent Bruner, to explain the situation and schedule a time to bring her in. Georgia was so far away, but Sandy hardly ever got sick, and we didn’t really know a vet here, and we always liked bringing her there because they really took care of her and loved her as their own. I had scheduled a time. I was ready to go to a Demi Lovato concert that Feb. in Georgia. The day of the concert came, and I was so pumped. Something happened. Sandy started sneezing blood that day. My mom called Canine Assistants: “We’re going to be in Georgia, and would like to schedule an emergency visit.” I went on to the concert with my dad, feeling like a bad owner, while Desiree and my mom went to Canine Assistants with Sandy. After the concert, when we were all back together in the van, my mom said, “Kent said it could be an infection or cancer, but it’s most likely cancer.” I didn’t want to feel anything, so I just felt denial. I thought of the most positive outcome, an infection. Kent gave my mom some medicine to see if the infection would go away. Nothing was improving, and I was still in denial, denial, denial. “She doesn’t want to do anything.” my dad said. “She doesn’t even want to move.” “Don’t think of your feelings, think of her pain.” It was then October. Time for another trip to Canine Assistants. I wanted to put her to sleep in the comfort of her home with her family, cremate her, and bury some of her ashes there on the grounds of Canine Assistants. I know with all my heart I made the right decision. We were waiting outside for Kent to come back from his lunch break, then we got tired, so we came inside. We had just gotten inside and Sandy just decided to plop down at the back door and not move. We were so far away from Kent’s office, but we decided to wait there with her anyways. Kent came back from his lunch break. “Oh, Baby girl, you do not look good.” He picked her straight up and carried her to his office. Don’t cry, Ashley, I thought to myself. Then, he had to ask the question, how are you doing? “I’m OK.” I whimpered, then I just broke down. My mom, Desiree, and I all gathered around her as the vet, Kent, put her to sleep. My mom and I were a mess, and even the precious vet was crying. Those dogs are his babies. Canine Assistants had raised and trained Sandy until she was a year old. “You can come back and play with our dogs anytime you want.” “You can even have another one.” Canine Assistants said. Sure, I have a few close friends, and I will be forever grateful for their love and friendship, but no friend can ever show me love and loyalty the way that Sandy did. Even in her last few days, she would never leave my chair’s side. I will be forever grateful for Sandy, and for the amazing place that is Canine Assistants. They both showed me what love is. They both showed me God, and all I have to end with is that there should be more places like Canine Assistants in the world.
By the way, I put the wrong year up there as to when I got Sandy. I had her from 2003-2014 RIP. For more information, or to donate, please visit: http://www.canineassistants.org If your heart moves you, please donate under my dog’s name: Sandy Moulin. This blog post is for her and Canine Assistants.
Ashley N. Moulin