Jeeves: My Mobility Support Dog
Just having finished two weeks of team training with Leslie Rappaport from Kings Valley Collies for Mobility and Support, I and my new partner, Jeeves, were flying from Eugene Oregon to Dulles International Airport. Diagnosed a few years earlier with sensory ataxia and an idiopathic movement disorder, I could no longer walk without assistance. My quality of life was declining at a frightening pace.
My father suffers from a similar disorder that struck him when he was my age. Now in his 80’s, he has very little feeling in his legs from the knees down. Active prior to his diagnosis, his life has narrowed to his home, doctor’s offices, and the grocery store with my mother’s assistance.
The years I had spent in dance and Pilates studios left me with a firm conviction—the body is designed to move. And, by God’s grace, I was going to stay active and remain mobile whatever it took.
After a phone conversation with Leslie, I flew out to Oregon for a walk-about with one of her trained mobility support dogs. The walk-about is designed to help the person living with a disability and Leslie determine if partnering with a trained service dog is the right choice. It was clear to both Leslie and me that I would benefit from partnering with a mobility support dog.
The decision made, Leslie and I arranged to meet at her kennel the next morning, where I would meet Jeeves, the candidate she had in mind for me. Although it sounds cliché, it was love at first sight — for both of us. If the eyes are the window to the soul, and I believe they are, this dog possessed heart, wisdom, and heart a quality I can’t describe other than to say I felt safe in his presence.
During our team training, which took two weeks and included hours of work, I came to understand the value of the skills Jeeves possessed, which included bracing and counterbalancing, guiding me to where the ground and sidewalks were most level to prevent falls, and alerting me when I was tired and at risk for a fall. On those rare occasions when I do fall, Jeeves helps me move safely to a standing position.
One of the collies’ most valuable—and, at times, frustrating—characteristics they possess is independent thinking skills, which sometimes means making decisions in my best interest, whether I agree with those decisions or not.
For example, one day while team training with Jeeves in Oregon, I insisted that Jeeves walk down the center of the sidewalk. He disagreed and kept guiding me to the part of the sidewalk that was closest to the store fronts. No matter how many times I redirected him to the center of the sidewalk, he would lead me back to the right side of the sidewalk alongside the storefronts. I voiced my frustration to Leslie when I reached the end of the sidewalk.
“Turn around,” is all she said to me. When I did, I saw that the sidewalk was slanted heavily to one side and that the straightest, safest place for me to walk was exactly where Jeeves had taken me.
In another instance, Jeeves had accompanied me to the hospital for some tests. I had parked in the wrong lot and had to walk the length of the hospital to get to the testing site. Once the test was finished, Jeeves and I started back to the car. It was hot, and neither Jeeves nor I was thrilled that we had to walk the distance to my car.
About 20 feet from the car, Jeeves stopped and moved me toward a bench to rest. With the temperature in the high 90’s, Jeeves parked himself under the bench, the only shade he could find. Despite my insistence that he continue to the car, he had sensed my fatigue and understood I was at risk for a fall.
He was right.
Now two years into our partnership, I have tens of stories of Jeeves seeing and sensing things before I do and making the necessary choices to keep me safe. I’ve learned over time that he generally knows what I need better than I do on most occasions.
And that is perfectly fine with me.