Tammie tells her story of working with NEADS to match with a service dog.
My name is Tammie DeCroteau and I was diagnosed with MS approximately 23 years ago, just months after the birth of my twin girls. I can remember the day of experiencing my first symptoms, which suddenly came on as tingling through the whole right side of my body. I began to panic, but thought it would resolve in a few days. It became more and more noticeable every day, and eventually continued to go throughout my whole body. That is when I decided to go to my doctor. They ran general tests and sent me to get an MRI. After several weeks, it was determined that I had MS. Hearing that I had this debilitating diagnosis came as a shock to me. I originally was in denial, then came sorrow, and then came acceptance. With the love and support of my family and friends, I was able to come to terms with this diagnosis and decided to live my life to the fullest. I knew that I would not be able to do the things that everyone around me could do or what I could previously do prior to my diagnosis, but I also knew that it was still possible to engage in everyday life occupations that are meaningful to me with some adaptations.
One of my personal interests is that I am a dog lover. My dog, Bono, always provided me with emotional support and was definitely considered a part of the family. As he became older and it was nearing his time to go, I knew that I would want another dog. However, with my twins being in college, my son in the military, and my husband working full time, I was nervous that I would not be able to care for a dog throughout the day due to the progression of my symptoms. I discussed this barrier with Dr. Lathi and she recommended that I reach out to the NEADS program to see if I qualified for a service dog.
I ended up applying and was accepted right away. Some of the things that I was interested in that the dog would potentially help me with would be retrieving things that I drop, such as keys, bowls, laundry, credit cards, my cane, and sneakers, pressing door and elevator buttons, nudging light switches off and on, opening the refrigerator to retrieve a bottle of water, and barking on command to alert someone if I ever fell. I was amazed at all of the things a service dog would be able to offer. The organization let me know that it would take approximately one to two years to get matched with a dog, and that I would have to fundraise in the meantime because the dogs cost $43,000 for their extensive training. They requested that I aim to raise $8,000 of that amount.
We ended up raising $20,000, donating the leftover funds to NEADS for other recipients to have for their dog. We did this through a comedy show, raffles, and private business donations. The comedy show was a great turn out, even so, my son that I hadn’t seen in over a year surprised me to attend the event. I couldn’t have been more grateful to be surrounded by all my friends and family to support me for something that I was so passionate about.
I ended up getting matched with a dog a year and half after applying. My daughter recalls the day that I got the call, saying “ you were sitting in the kitchen and got a call, you didn’t really know who it was because it was an unknown number, and you were in complete shock that it was actually happening after waiting for over a year and compared it to getting surprising news of expecting a child”. They let me know her breed and name, a yellow lab named Logan. They then scheduled me to go to intense training for two weeks. It was a very challenging yet rewarding training experience. With time, I gained confidence in how to incorporate and utilize all that Logan could do for me. I am extremely grateful that she is now a part of my life.
Logan has changed my life for the better. She does everything I need plus more. She gives me the confidence I need to go on every day. I know I can look to her for help when I am running errands, going to physical and occupational therapy, and visiting friends. Even when I am having a bad day, I know she is there to cheer me up. She is by my side always. I also feel as though people don’t see me as an individual with an illness now, they see me as someone who has a cute dog that is always there helping me. This has helped me realize that I am not defined by my disability, even though it is a part of who I am. Although having MS is challenging, knowing I have Logan by my side, helps me live my life to the fullest.