Living alone in a city like Boston has its challenges for everyone. It’s fast-paced, busy and intimidating in its own way. Pedestrians get ignored, taxis can be difficult to catch and the winter months can be brutal. Using public transportation is a can of worms most wouldn’t want to even attempt to dig into. Now add spinal problems and a pair of crutches to the mix.
It’s not a pretty picture.
I would not be living and working in Boston without the help of my service dog, Graham. He goes everywhere with me, from my apartment to work, the MBTA and even the bars when I need a drink. I cannot imagine my life without him in it.
The beginning of my story is pretty bleak. Abandoned at birth in Russia, and sent to live at an orphanage, I was riddled with medical problems and a lack of mobility. My feet were not flat, my hips had no sockets and my spine was curving slowly, crushing my lungs as I aged. It was all quite depressing, to be honest.
When I turned two, things began to change. I was adopted by a couple from Boston. Both were school administrators and one had a history of working with disabled children. There was some hope!
In May of 1993 I flew from Russia to Germany to Boston, MA to begin my new life. I was welcomed into a large family and quickly became the center of attention. I no longer needed to fight for toys or follow an extremely strict regiment. I was even allowed to suck on my thumb for comfort!
Though I was cared for, spoiled and loved, I still had many medical issues. I was diagnosed with Spina Bifida, disclocated hips, Scoliosis and rockabottom feet. Surgery was inevitable and at four yeas of age, I had two major procedures. My feet were reconstructed and metal rods were placed in my back to keep my spine straight. I was given a pair of crutches at 5 for mobility and it didn’t take long for me to begin “scooting” everywhere. I had freedom!
Through high school, life was pretty easy. Sure I had extra challenges getting around but I lived in a sheltered home where I had help with everything I needed or wanted. If I wanted to go to college, however, that had to change. The college I wanted to go to, Champlain College in Burlington VT, meant that I’d need to learn how to live on my own… and fast. I learned how to put shoes and socks on with dressing sticks. I’d be living in a dorm with a cafeteria so grocery shopping wasn’t needed and there was no way I could drive as it was. Campus had everything for me.
I thought I was all set. I wasn’t. The winters in Vermont were brutal. Snow and ice meant lots of falls and moments where I was alone and unable to get up. I needed help but I didn’t know from where or how. Then I heard about NEADS.
I knew of service dogs, especially guide dogs for the blind, but I hadn’t realized that service dogs could be used beyond that. After speaking to my parents about it at length, I applied for a dog.
It took almost two years for me to be matched to Graham. In that time I had transferred to a college close to home (though I kept living on my own) and I had learned to drive a modified vehicle. Having a service dog would just complete my road to independence.
I met Graham in June of 2012, trained with him in July and took him home at the beginning of August. We were inseperable. He could help me open and close doors, pick up fallen objects, grab my crutches for me, call elevators, carry things in a backpack and even help me off the floor if I took a spill.
Graham finished college with me and soon I was job hunting. When I was offered a job in the heart of Boston, I was both excited and scared to death. I’d need to commute into the city using the train and then subway daily, in the dark and alone. If it weren’t for him, I probably would have not accepted the offer. But I had Graham at my side and I knew I could do anything with him.
Fastfoward a year to today. I live on my own just outside the city with Graham and my sweet little calico, Simi. He’s opened the world up to me. This blog is here to document our journey and to share our experiences with the world.