A Service Dog Could Literally Save my Life
I’ve been through a lot in my 22 years of on this planet: sexual abuse as a child, my mother’s injury and traumatization in the 9/11 terrorist attack, Anorexia Nervosa, depression, hospitalizations, sexual assault, permanent scarring, the sudden deaths of three friends as well as my beloved grandfather, ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder… as if that were not enough, I was diagnosed with three rare medical conditions at age 20: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and mast cell activation syndrome. Then I was diagnosed with endometriosis and interstitial cystitis, too!
I had been vaguely ill for many years, but from 2015 to the present, my condition declined significantly to the point where I now sometimes need to use a cane, forearm crutches, or even a wheelchair. I’m on 12 daily medications. I have to carry at least two EpiPens at all times due to my unpredictable anaphylactic episodes. I could go on for pages, but suffice to say it’s certainly not the life I expected to be living in my early 20s.
Then my doctors and I had an idea: what about a service dog? A service dog could be trained to help me with numerous daily tasks: assistance with doors, retrieval of objects I can’t comfortably bend to reach, retrieval of my mobility aids, and more. He/she could wake me from fitful nightmares, lick my hand to ground me during flashbacks, and simply offer comfort as a safe and trustworthy companion. In fact, a service dog could literally save my life. If I went into anaphylaxis while home alone, I could nonverbally instruct my dog to retrieve my EpiPens. I could even signal him/her to use a K9 Rescue Phone to send an alert to emergency services. It sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
There’s One Catch
It costs anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 to breed, raise, feed, vaccinate, house, and extensively train a dog for the first two years of their life. Some organizations can provide service dogs for much lower costs or even for free, but unfortunately, their waiting lists are three-six years long, and they are typically unable to take on more than a few clients per year. I searched all over the country for an organization that could meet my needs. Ultimately, it became clear that my best option is an accredited service dog facility located in Connecticut with a $25,000 fee.
Forget it, I thought. I don’t have $25,000, and I’m never going to be able to raise such an enormous amount of money. But somehow, I decided to try anyway. I’m an artist and writer, so I tried my best to reel in commissions and managed to put a little bit of money into my savings. My parents generously contributed what they could. Even though I felt guilty for accepting donations, I made a GoFundMe. I designed a T-shirt and started a campaign on Bonfire.
But sales were painfully slow. I was deeply discouraged. More than once, I broke down and hysterically wept, overwhelmed with sadness, frustration, and shame. I wanted the increased independence, security, comfort, and confidence a service dog could bring into my life so very badly, and my goal felt so far out of reach.
I Had No Idea What Was About to Happen
Fast-forward several months, on November 3, I was feeling quite sick, so I went to bed early. I tossed and turned, only able to fall half asleep due to pain in my joints.
Then my phone pinged.
And pinged again.
I rubbed my eyes and checked the time; a few minutes after midnight. Who the heck was texting me at this hour? I unlocked my phone and quickly realized the pings weren’t texts, they were emails. Notification emails from both Bonfire and GoFundMe. In a matter of minutes, almost 40 people had contributed to my service dog fund. I sat bolt upright. Suddenly, I was wide awake. What was happening? How?
And then I remembered: I had met Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret, at a PostSecret Live! event several weeks prior. I was lucky and had the chance to speak with him one-on-one. We continued our conversation by email, and I asked him if he would be willing to share my service dog fundraiser on his very popular blog. He had agreed. And of course, I had told myself not to get excited, because people aren’t trustworthy. Sometimes they pretend to care when they actually don’t. Sometimes they promise to do things, but they don’t follow through. Why in the world would this busy, famous stranger go out of his way to help me? Nothing will come of this, I thought. Just forget about it, Addie.
But I was wrong. Frank Warren very generously had shared my picture and the link to my Bonfire fundraiser on the PostSecret blog, which is updated every Sunday at 12:00 AM. My fundraiser went from about $800 to almost $6,000, and I sold over 80 shirts on Bonfire. Strangers from all over the world were donating, purchasing, and commenting:
“I have gone through my own health issues, and I found your story inspiring.”
“Please give yourself a hug from me.”
“Addie, I hope you get the support you need.”
“Sending love from New Zealand.”
“Love from Austria!”
“I care, and you deserve every opportunity available to you.”
“Your bravery helps others to be brave. Keep it up!”
“I know what it’s like to have a mental illness and need help.”
“You truly are a ray of light in a world of darkness.”
“I can’t wait to see how much more you can accomplish with a service dog!”
The Most Precious Gift
Thanks to Frank Warren and the #PostSecret community, I now have hope. I have hope that I will one day be matched with a service dog. I have hope that I will manage to graduate college, build a career, and live independently. I have hope that there are good, kind people in this world. No gift could be more precious than to have this heart, glowing and warm and finally, authentically hopeful.
Adira Koosis (also known as Adira Bennett) is a 22-year-old artist and writer in New York City. She spends her days attending college part-time, volunteering at the Women’s Center for Gender Justice, and trying to remember where she left her keys. To keep up with Adira’s new work, follow her on Patreon.
Image courtesy of Adam Griffith.