International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners


by Leigh Singh

When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me that everything in

life has something good to offer. He said the trick to making it through a

tough situation is to find one good thing and hang on to that. When I was

young, I figured my Pop Pop was right about almost everything; but as a

child with cerebral palsy, I believed I had found something that Pop Pop

was wrong about. Cerebral palsy was the name for the constant pain in my

legs. It was why I had to go to the hospital for more than a dozen

operations. It was why I walked funny and why I never could learn to ride

a bike. CP was even the reason my teachers gave in school when I could not

write neatly or read in straight lines. My grandfather had told me that

everything in life has something good to offer; and although I tried for

many years, I just couldn't find anything good about having to live every

single day of my life with cerebral palsy. But then when I was twenty three

years old, something good found me. That good thing was a dog named


There has always been something special about Slugger. Even when he

was a very small puppy, his gentle temperament, and bright eyed

intelligence made it clear he was destined to make a difference. It took

nearly two years of intensive training and plenty of dog treats, but thanks

to the care, dedication, and skill of many volunteers who worked with

Caring Canine Companions of Virginia, one little yellow puppy was

transformed into Slugger the fully trained service dog.

By the time I was introduced to him, Slugger was a certified service

dog. In addition to basic obedience, he knew how to retrieve dropped

items, open doors, and bark on command. He had even learned how to provide

support while navigating steps and hills with his handler. The tasks that

it had taken Slugger two years to learn were all things that that could

make my life easier. And so, when Slugger and I graduated together after

several months of team training, I knew that this dog would make a

difference in my life. At the time, I had no idea how great a difference

that would be.

A new sense of freedom came into my life when I began working with my

service dog. When the two of us first began our career as a service dog

team, I was completing my masters degree in counseling at James Madison

University. With Slugger by my side, basic tasks like carrying heavy text

books and walking across a crowded campus became easier than I had ever

hoped they would be. I no longer had to rely on other people to give me a

hand when I was going up a hill, and if I dropped a pencil during one of my

classes, Slugger would quickly retrieve it for me. On several different

occasions, Slugger even managed to keep me from falling on icy steps and

rain-slicked sidewalks. Because of my service dog, I was able to shift my

focus away from the physical pain and the obstacles created by my cp. I

was given the freedom to pursue my personal goals and to spend more time

and energy on the good things in my life.

Slugger continues to bring support and independence to my life today.

In the five years that the two of us have been working together, I have

come to rely on his unshakable loyalty and his willingness to help me even

in challenging situations. I recently did a presentation with Slugger

where I needed to step up onto a high stage. I asked my dog to support me

so that I could navigate the steep step. As I climbed onto the stage, my

hand slipped and I accidentally hurt Slugger. My dog let out a yelp, but

he did not move from his supporting position until I had climbed safely

onto the stage. Slugger's unwavering assistance earned him an instant

round of applause from the audience to whom I was about to speak. It also

served as a testament to the deep bond that joins a service dog and a human


In addition to providing physical support and assistance, Slugger

enriches my life in other important if less tangible ways. The simple act

of petting my dog refreshes me even when I am tired or in pain. His

presence by my side adds to my sense of confidence, self-worth and

completeness. Since Slugger came into my life five years ago, I have even

become a wiser person. Thanks to my dog, I have come to realize that white

hair on a dark skirt is not the end of the world. I have learned that every

good partnership is a matter of give and take. I have also discovered that

there are people among us all who know that blessings are most beautiful

when they are shared. And now, I think I understand what my grandfather

meant when he said everything in life has something good to offer. And

thanks to Slugger, I think he was right.

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