Today’s Voice of the Leader Dog Community is LDB Client Kacie Q. who shares some insight into her first year with her first Leader Dog, Danny, that she received on May 20, 2021.
The beginning of my Leader Dog journey started like just about everyone else. I got my call and was eager to be part of the March 2021 class. While I was sitting at the airport getting ready to board my plane, I received an urgent call from my husband that my grandfather had passed away. I immediately contacted Leader Dog to let them know that I could not get on the plane. By the time I got my luggage, my grandfather had come back to life. NO REALLY. He was officially declared dead and then came back to life 10 minutes later. Despite this, I could not get on the plane. I went back home to wait and see how my grandfather progressed. He went from being dead, to thriving in the ICU, to a normal room, to being scheduled to go back home. When he continued to get better, I was in contact with Leader Dog and was able to get my flight rebooked so I could make it to training.
I arrived at Leader Dog on March 18, 2021. The following morning, I got to meet my match LD Danny, a 2-year-old black Labrador/golden retriever cross. While LD Danny and I were on our first walk with our instructor, I received an unimaginable call. My grandfather was quickly declining and being taken home for comfort care. I made the near impossible decision to leave Leader Dog to be with my grandfather in his final hours. Leader Dog was incredible in getting me home and reassuring me that I can come back to finish training. I will forever be grateful to Leader Dog for not making me choose between my family and LD Danny.
After my grandfather’s services, I was able to reschedule my training. My instructor, Jill, arrived in Utah with Danny in May 2021 to complete home training with me. Poor Danny had a difficult time with the transition and ended up sick shortly after he arrived. After a checkup with the vet, homemade food, and a lot of love and reassurance; Danny and I were able to bond and get him emotionally comfortable in his new living arrangements. Besides being in a completely new environment, Danny had to get used to my four boys, all under 10. Danny had a lot of anxiety about the noise and commotion in my home.
The choice for home training ended up being a blessing in disguise. My immediate area doesn’t have true curbs or corners, making navigation a little more unique. We were able to not only focus on my rural neighborhood, but also a small community nearby where we do shopping, college, and doctor appointments. I am not sure I would have had the courage to deal with his illness and helping to get him adjusted to the daily chaos in my house alone. My training ended with a trip to Salt Lake City, were we travel frequently for my husband’s cancer treatments, so I could practice the independent travel skills on public transit and much busier areas.
Danny and I took the summer to get used to each other and to try new things. We went camping in the mountains, attended family reunions on the beach, and took many rides on our UTV (utility task vehicle). We learned how excited LD Danny gets at the rodeo! One of the most exciting things for me this first summer was going on my first nighttime walk with Danny. I felt so much safer and more aware of my surroundings with Danny’s keen senses to keep me safe. The one any only time I have heard Danny bark was on a camping trip when we were sitting by the campfire. I have no idea what was out there with us, but Danny and I were quick to call it a night.
The summer ended with Danny and me starting the fourth and final year of my bachelor’s degree. Danny and I spent most of every week in the library or lounging on the field listening to textbooks. After a while, Danny started to walk more and more slowly on the way to the library because he knew we would be mostly stationary for the rest of the day. But luckily, we made it through and got our degree in April 2022. I had arranged for Danny and me to practice on the stage prior to commencement enabling Danny to be flawless the day of commencement.
I wish I could say that our first year was without issue, but we hit many obstacles along the way. Danny had a lot of anxiety about my young children leaving me to question if I had made the choice to get a Leader Dog prematurely. At times I was overwhelmed with how much I needed to divide my attention between my responsibilities as a mother, wife, dog handler, student, PTA president, and church leader. We also dealt with minor park issues throughout the year that seemed to escalate as time progressed. I took a good fall off a curb for failing to listen and check what Danny was telling me about my surroundings. I am grateful to have had a dedicated instructor to reach out to at every obstacle. Jill was patient with my insecurities and full of helpful advice to help Danny and I be successful.
In April 2022 we had a successful family trip to Las Vegas. We got a ton of practice on escalators, confusing casinos, distractions from uneducated people, and lots and lots of odors. As our one-year mark quickly approaches (this week) I feel confident with where Danny and I are with our training. We both have our off days but are continuing to make progress all the time. Last week Danny and I went on a walk with my husband, our 4-year-old twins AND our two pets for the first time. Danny was amazing. He stayed focused on me despite having more than one distraction tempting him the whole way. Our personalities and temperaments have meshed perfectly by now, constantly adjusting from lazy days to non-stop demands. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in the next year.