I first encountered a service dog accompanying a person with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) three years ago. I had met my friend and fellow FARA ambassador Andrea and she had her beautiful black Lab, Ramada, with her. I could tell right away that Ramada was more than just a well-behaved pet because of the blue canvas vest she wore warning passers-by not to pet her. While it feels counterintuitive not to pat a dog, the rule is necessary to prevent the animal from becoming distracted from assisting its companion.
While I’d heard of service dogs and guide dogs for the visually impaired, I wasn’t aware of the existence of service dogs for people with ataxia. As I watched Ramada pick up items that Andrea had dropped — one effect of FA is a lack of hand coordination — and observed the dog’s obedient and comforting presence at her side, I made a decision.
I wanted a service dog.
My plan surprised me. I have never found it easy to ask for help — I prefer stubbornness.
I don’t know why I thought I was ready to apply for a service dog, but I was sure of my choice. With no idea where to start, I Googled “service dogs for ataxia.” One of the first results I clicked on seemed promising. I contacted Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which offers service dogs for people with special needs, and even for veterans of the armed forces. The organization provides the dogs at no cost to approved applicants.