I’m 42 years old single dad with three boys. I was Staff Sergeant and spent 10 years in the Air Force Special
Operations Command as a Combat Weatherman. In June of 1999, I was on a special operation mission in Ecuador on a counter narcotic mission. My vehicle flipped and rolled over me, which crushed my back and left me face down in the water. Two months later, I woke up from a coma with a doctor telling me that I’d never walk again. It was devastating and took many years to recover both physically and mentally. Ten years later, Napal came into my life and changed it forever. Napal is a black Labrador assistant dog.
I became very active in many sports and although I’m paralysed from the waist down, I learned to water ski, snow ski, scuba dive, swim and I compete in distance racing with my wheelchair racer. I on the military’s Paralympic team and have medals in several events in swimming, snow skiing, wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball.
I learnt about assistant dogs quite by chance. I’m a pilot and was flying disabled children through an organisation called Challenge Air. At this event, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) had a booth where I learnt that I could qualify for a service dog through their wounded warrior programme. Once my application was accepted, I traveled to San Diego for two weeks where I worked with several dogs to see which one was the best fit and there, I found Napal. I also learned how to take care of and how to use my dog to the best of his abilities.
Napal is now four years old, he was two years old when I received him. Today, I am completely independent with the help of Napal. There are many times that I’m completely alone because I travel a lot. And I’m 100 percent confident in myself and my dog to help me with things that I can’t do myself.
A helping hand…
He retrieves objects off the ground, tables, etc and brings them to me, he can pull me in my chair if I’m very tired or holding on to something and I can’t use both my arms to push me. He carries objects for me, closes and opens drawers, cabinets, gets items from the refrigerator, get clothes out of the washing machine, close and open doors. He can even get my clothes out of the washer (front loading) and dryer because I can’t reach some of the small items like socks that are in the back of the washing machine.
Sometime when I’m in bed, Napal turns the lights on or off. He pulls me over curbs, he barks if I’m in trouble or need another person to help such as when I flipped my wheelchair over. My neighbours and boys know to come for help if they hear Napal barking. Some of the fun stuff Napal does is that he gets his own treats out of the pantry or retrieves his dog bowl when he knows it’s time for me to feed him. We also visit patients at the hospital. He can always put a smile on someone’s face who’s going through tough circumstances. It’s magical!
At home when his vest is off, he changes gear and becomes a playful pet and we play fetch. But Napal is much more than a pet, he is as helpful mentally as he is physically. He knows when I’m down and in pain (I have chronic severe nerve pain) and he always cheers me up. He’s a part of my life, we are very connected, and he truly is man’s best friend.
I’m always putting objects in my lap since I’m in a wheelchair and I drop things all the time without knowing. If Napal finds my keys or phone on the floor, he’ll pick it up and come and find me to give it to me. He knows that certain objects are important to me and that’s why he retrieves them without me asking, he’s amazing.
Made for each other…
He knows the task I’m going to ask him beforehand because we are together all the time. And I know what he’s wanting too from his actions…we are a great working pair…we are there for each other. I must admit that I spoil him with love and affection, and he deserves it. But Napal spoils me too. We both are inseparable, I just cannot think of a life without him.
Woofs of Wisdom
To live in the present,
To play, jump with joy,
To enjoy long walks in the nature, and those long drives,
To stay happy in the face of adversity
To give more, expect less, To listen more, speak less.
To love unconditionally, and Live passionately.
There are countless other lessons