Owning a Dog When You Are Disabled
Many with disabilities have a service animal, or emotional support animal. Typically, these animals have gone through extensive training in order to assist their owners, in whatever way they need.
Me? I have a giant lump of a dog.
He isn’t very well trained, he weighs as much as I do currently, he has behavioral issues, he has bad hips (well, hip, he has already had one replaced and is on his way to the second), and he is allergic to just about everything under the sun. I love him dearly, and he loves me, but the important thing is that he needs me. He is not self sufficient. I don’t have a back yard, or an automatic feeder. My dog needs me to live.
I don’t think I realized this before I got into it. Owning animals is hard, absolutely. What I didn’t realize was that it is extremely difficult knowing that another life depends completely on you, when you can barely take care of yourself. I have thought multiple times about giving him to someone who could give him better care; I wondered if someone else could play with him more, walk him further, get him the exercise he needs, and give him more strict training. Would he be happy there? Or would that decision devastate him, having his beloved human give him to a stranger without being able to explain it to him?
He has gained weight. In the last year, I broke my foot, had to have my gallbladder removed, got pancreatitis, and then a mysterious illness that has left me incredibly weak. My partner has been here to help me walk him, and to play with him sometimes. I feel incredible guilt over not being able to take him on long walks like I used to, not being able to sit and rub his face and play with him like I used to, though I was never able to play with him much given that his favorite game is Tug of War. I haven’t been able to wash him like I want to, because it hurts my back very bad to do so, and he is a handful. He stares at me, and whines, and the most I can do is rub his face for a bit. Then he whines some more. When we are walking, he isn’t very well behaved, and I know what to do to correct this, but it can be exhausting to do it enough for it to stick (not to mention that controlling a 110 lb dog that wants to go ‘that way’ is very difficult, when you only weigh about 114 lbs yourself).
I would be lying if I said he didn’t bring a much needed joy to my life. He sits outside the glass doors of my bedroom, watching me sleep, waiting with anticipation for me to wake up. When I come home, I’m greeted by a giant wiggling mass of fur (he flails all about, being too excited). Even while he is just laying on the floor, he strikes goofy poses, just content to be there, and as little as a look from his humans is enough to make him wag his tail. He seems extremely content here, even though I can’t do enough for him. He seems so happy to be anywhere near me, and I’m so happy to be anywhere near him.
Owning an animal is very difficult. I question constantly if I’m treating him well enough, if I’m equipped to take care of the dog, but I remind myself that he gets me up in the morning, he gives me a reason to go outside, to walk, to move, and makes me smile so often. When I’m feeling unwell, he cries. When I’m laying down on the couch he comes to see if I ‘need assistance’ (running joke), by licking my face as much as he can manage, putting his head on my chest, and generally prodding me. I may have my worries about taking care of my dog, but I will always drag myself up in the worst of my conditions, if it means taking care of my Bubba.