Rumi the Service Dog

Doctor’s appointments are usually the stuff of nightmares for us – the kind that jolt me out of bed the morning of with a pounding heart and cold sweats, exhausted before my feet even hit the floor. This might sound like an exaggeration, but after years of waiting room struggles, my body has a visceral reaction to an impending appointment and it is mostly one of epic dread. I’ve blacked out most of those memories because they are so traumatic, but I can recall one instance very clearly in which Sienna ran down the hall ahead of me into the office of another physician. When I finally caught up with her, I found her trying to sit in the doctor’s lap while throwing papers off of his desk. I had to physically pull her off of him and out of the building, kicking and screaming. She was 10 years old. It took me a week to recover from that experience. Understandably, this morning’s pre-appointment anxiety was no different as I prepared to take Sienna to an ENT follow up visit. I got up a few minutes before her in order to get in some deep breathing exercises and a few sun salutations to calm my body and mind. That helped, but I still felt jittery.

So, when Sienna asked incessantly if Rumi, her Australian Labradoodle service dog, could join us, my immediate internal response was, “OH, HELL NO“. To give you a bit of a background, we got Rumi as a puppy last summer and, with the help of a professional trainer,  I have been training her to become a service dog. It took us a year to fully certify her. The intention was always for moments such as this: to join Sienna on outings to help soothe her nervous system, anxiety, and tendency to meltdown in uncomfortable situations.

That was the intention. However, I have found myself mostly resisting the idea of taking her along because she is still very much a puppy and her “puppiness” can be quite overwhelming particularly while I am also trying to manage Sienna and all of her “Sienna-ness”. Rumi is adorable and fluffy, like black velvet. She is sweet, but she can be a little skittish and she has the energy of a bouncy, overactive toddler. The two together can be a handful. Hence, the stiffening of every one of the 650 muscles in my body at the mere suggestion of bringing Rumi with us to visit the ENT.

And, then, I paused. After all, Rumi is a service dog. If her owner is requesting her assistance, then I probably should not allow myself to get in the way. I convinced myself that affirming Sienna’s plea for her companion was the right thing to do.

What unfolded after that was something I will likely never forget.

Sienna was able to capture the attention of everyone working behind the reception desk. “Would you like to pet my dog?“, is one of her favorite conversation starters and it happens to be a very effective one. They, of course, did, and then they asked Sienna all sorts of questions like, “what’s her name?” and “what kind of dog is she?“. Sienna lives for this level of engagement from people. She demonstrated her ability to get Rumi to sit and give her a treat. She bragged about how much Rumi loves her and loves giving her kisses. Sienna was so distracted by showing off her dog, she didn’t have any time to feel anxious about the appointment. In turn, Rumi behaved like a model service dog. She was a star.

Once we were brought back to the room, Sienna sat down quietly and played on my phone until the doctor came in. Rumi took her place on the floor next to her. After the doctor and I spoke for a bit, he stared at Sienna and then turned to me and mouthed, what is going on?? He has known Sienna for a long time, so he has firsthand experience with how difficult she can be during an appointment. He was baffled by her placid and content demeanor. He even suggested that maybe I had made a medicine change recently. I shook my head emphatically and shrugged. It’s the dog.

Rumi’s namesake was a 13th century Persian spiritual master and poet. There are countless inspirational quotes that come from his works that are widely used today. There is one, in particular, that so clearly depicts what stirred in me as we walked out of this appointment:

“When you feel a peaceful joy, that’s when you are near truth”.

Rumi and the year of training I personally invested in her to become Sienna’s service dog was a gamble. I had no way of knowing if all that effort and sacrifice would be worth it. But, the peaceful joy that fills me now following the appointment today is the only evidence I need to encourage me that hope is never lost and, no matter how draining some attempts may be, I must never give up seeking out creative ways to make Sienna’s life easier and better. Rumi has proven herself to be the anchor and friend Sienna needs, especially in stressful situations. The next time Sienna asks if Rumi can join us for an appointment, my answer will be a resounding YES


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