Becoming An Amputee With A Service Dog

By: Joel Allen

Hello, folks! As many have heard, I recently have become a left below-the-knee amputee. This was not an easy choice to make, and I took two months in my final decision to listen to my doctors. This has been life changing for me but not life ending. I asked myself and worried that I would not be able to live a good life, as I saw myself losing mobility and a foot. That is monumental on a huge scale, folks! I thought I would never walk again or do simple things that we all take for granted every day. I even worried whether a service dog or my service dogs would be enough to help me. Then after much thought and prayer, I realized that I was actually ready for this challenge. I have always been thinking ahead, and apparently God prepared my path for me before I even knew myself. The good news is that I will have an artificial foot, and I will begin training with that soon. I have to say that Vanderbilt is a really good place to begin the journey of healing I am on.

In public, when everyone sees me and one of my service dogs, the first thing they notice is my service dog does not pull on the leash, and if they do it is very lightly and quickly halted. I train all my dogs from the beginning of basic obedience to more advanced training not to pull on their leashes. There is always a “just in case” in the back of my mind, and I always implement a plan for this. These last two weeks have made me see that being physically impaired as I am now, “loose leash” training is always a must.

Another lesson I am grateful that I teach and encourage is “off-leash” commands such as “recall” (a verbal command of calling the dog back and they listen), “stay,” and other commands that can be implemented depending on your needs as someone using a service dog. Most leash laws or ordinances in different states and towns have a clause stating that if the service dog is not leashed to its handler, it must be under verbal control. I have had Houston off leash in the public at times when my mobility caused me not to be able to escort him on leash to relieve himself, and he remained under verbal control even when another dog was barking at him in our area of operation. That is real control when your dog listens even during or after another dog tries to get their attention and they stay focused on where they are supposed to be around their handler.

I was at Vanderbilt recently and used the restroom. When I was done, and Houston stayed next to me the whole time, I dropped his leash so I could wash my hands, and he stayed where I told him even when someone else walked into the restroom and spoke to him. I would like to say that when training your service dog, distraction training should be implemented so when something like this happens, your dog is prepared and does not become distracted from their mission.

Since this new way of life has become ours, I am finding that I really don’t have to teach my service dogs much more than they already know. With Houston, I will add to his training soon the ability to lock his body in place to assist me in balance or recovery from a fall should that ever happen.

Some other lessons I would recommend for those like us with mobility issues is the “fetch” command.  What this entails is teaching your service dog to pick up things on command and bring them to their person. There are many techniques that are used for this training, so we will keep it to a list of the possible training ideas. Your service dog can be taught to pick up things dropped so as to prevent a fall, fetch your socks, turn on the lights, and just about anything one can think of to assist when it comes to bringing items of purpose for their wellbeing.

Folks, I have to say that this was not an easy decision for me. Being a bachelor and loving my dogs, I worried that our lives were over, at first. Then, I asked questions and found that I would still be able to live and be me. I found there is life after amputation because it went through my mind that I would have to give up certain qualities of life. Let me say this to those who are faced with something life changing as I have been, stay positive and focused. Your life is only beginning, not ending. I’ve been there and I know the choice is ours to make. As one of my favorite movie quotes in Morgan Freeman’s voice says, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” I hope that everyone has a good month and stay safe out there, until next month.

By: Joel Allen