In life we are taught to celebrate the special moments both big and small. We celebrate first days of school and last days as well. We celebrate birthdays and holidays and anniversaries. We cherish the moments and use pictures and stories to capture them for future reminiscing. In the service dog world, we have our own special day. It’s a day for us to celebrate the moments our lives changed for the better. That day is Gotcha Day. Today Bella and I celebrate our two-year Gotcha Day anniversary and man am I excited. In the middle of all the excitement and count down leading up to it, I realized that not a lot of people understand them. I look like a crazy person as I buy treats and toys and new Service dog gear. It’s basically Bella Christmas in my house. With all this in mind, I thought now was the time to explain it to others.
Gotcha Day is literally the anniversary of the day I went home with Bella. To me this day marks the moment my life changed. Leading up to that day I had more ups and downs then some of the biggest roller coaster’s. I was living a shell of a life hardly able to function. I think this is common for most. For me, I had spent the months leading up to this day in a pit of despair with the smallest glimmer of hope that things will get better. I was depressed and OCD and my Panic anxiety disorder were leading to agoraphobia. I couldn’t spend more than 15 minutes in crowded spaces. I would cower in grocery stores in fear of the next trigger of an anxiety or panic attack. I went to the grocery store at 6 in the morning so I wouldn’t have to be close to people or I wouldn’t leave my house at all. I lived in this constant state of fear of my own body. How bad would the next one be? Would I blank out and forget moments in time? Would I pass our and hit my head on something? How ridiculous do I look as a 23 year old when I look like I am having a heart attack? The fear of the unknown was enough to make my depression so much worse because what was the point of living if I couldn’t actually live?
It was probably mid September 2013 when my mom suggested a service dog. She had been reading about the breakthroughs with psychiatric service dogs and medical alert dogs. I laughed the first time she suggested it. Service Dogs were for mobility, guiding, seizure detection or hearing, not for a pathetic person that couldn’t leave home. She urged me to look into it. I decided I would look because I was desperate. That day a glimmer of hope was born. I started finding these personal stories from others like me. I found studies and groups. I found laws of what was needed for a disabled person to qualify for a service dog. For me that was the hardest part, coming to terms with the fact that I was, by definition, disabled. Not because it is a bad thing, but because I didn’t understand what it meant. Then I started finding tasks dogs could be trained to perform to mitigate this disability. I realized, finding my match would mean I could actually function and thrive in the real world.
It took time to find groups and information. Most places had waiting lists that could be a yearlong. I found my glimmer of hope when I came across a site listing private smaller trainers in each state. After calling, and getting doctors notes and setting up a time to meet (which was foiled by a snow storm) on the 12th of October, I was finally on my way to look at a possible match.
I’ve mentioned before about the process of meeting the dogs but I will give the short version. First I had to figure out what I needed (big, small, mobility size, type of detection or tasks I needed my dog to be able to learn) we figured out I needed a large or medium sized dog with a little energy to keep me active. I met a few dogs, and two puppies. When this yellow lab snuck through the gate, moved the puppy and sat on my feet. She gave me this knowing look that said, “Hi, I am coming home with you”. Next thing I know, we were signing papers and picking out times to take her home and come back for tests and training. The next day we went back to pick her up and that is when our gotcha days began.
Today, to me, is one of the greatest days I will celebrate. I go over board with toys and treats. It’s my way of showing this spectacular dog just how much she means to me. With out Bella I honestly can say I would not be here today. She saved my life and she continues to save it all the time. This furry creature taught me that I could live a pretty amazing life even with all my obstacles.
Gotcha day is more then just the day I got a dog, Gotcha day is the day I learned how to be alive. That, to me, is why Gotcha Day is so important. Plus who doesn’t love treating their dog and themselves to cupcakes and treats.
Happy Gotcha Day Bella Lou 🙂