This video and story is about Roca, a one-year-old female Rottweiler. Though she may look like an everyday happy-go-lucky house pet, Roca is not a pet. She has a special job to do. Roca is a service dog, specifically trained to help mitigate my disability.
A service dog is defined under the American’s with Disabilities Act as “…any dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability…”
I have a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (P.O.T.S.), which is a form of Dysautonomia (a dysfunction of the automatic functions of the body).
My doctor prescribed a service dog to help mitigate the symptoms of my disability, and Roca and I have been together ever since.
There are many different kinds of service dogs, and all of them are trained to assist their disabled partner.
There are guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, medical alert dogs (such as a dog that alerts a person with diabetes to their blood sugar level), medical response dogs (such as a dog that is trained to protect someone having a seizure) mobility assistance dogs, autism support dogs and psychiatric service dogs.
Roca is a Medical Support Dog, which means she is cross trained in mobility assistance, medical alert, medical response and guide work.
Some of the tasks Roca is trained for and is still learning to perform for me are: picking up things off of the floor, alerting me to my medical episodes before they occur, leading someone to me if I have fainted or am unresponsive, providing deep pressure therapy, guiding me safely to a number of locations such as the nearest exit/open seat/safe place to sit or lay down, fetching medication and treatment, fetching a phone, laying down beside/on top of me if I faint in public, assisting me with clothing, opening and closing doors and drawers, turning on and off lights, bracing so that I can stand up or sit down, and providing momentum pulling while climbing stairs or inclines.
When she gets a little bit bigger, she will wear a Bold Lead Designs mobility harness while she is working. Because her job is so important, and I depend on her for everyday living, Roca accompanies me everywhere I go.
She has been to restaurants, movie theaters, plays, the zoo, the mall, grocery stores, doctors’ appointments, clothing stores, church, sports games, my different jobs, the gym, the dentist, running, hiking, biking, swimming and anywhere else that I have to go.
It might seem like the life of a service dog is all work and no play, but that is far from the truth! When she is not on duty, Roca is a fun-loving and playful dog!
Her favorite toys are her tennis ball and empty plastic pop bottles.She loves to carry them around in her mouth, kick and throw them for herself, and bury them in the couch cushions.
She also gets plenty of time to just be a dog, and play with other dogs her age two to three times a week. She loves to chew toys to shreds (she is a bit like a toy shark), and has demolished many Kongs, tennis balls, rope toys, chews and Nyla Bones. She loves sleeping!
If there isn’t anything particularly interesting going on, she will plop down and take a nap just about anywhere. She slept through three hours of Imax Hobbit movie with the sounds of battle vibrating through the floor. But when her vest goes on, she knows it is time to go to work, and becomes very focused, calm and attentive.
The bond between a service dog and handler goes far deeper than a partnership, achieving a level of deep friendship experienced by only a privileged few. Roger Caras once said: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
Once in a while, a friend enters your life, and changes everything, and Roca is that friend to me. She has given me back my independence, become my best friend, and continues to literally and figuratively open doors for me in my life.
It can be very frightening to be ill and be by yourself. The state of my medical condition means I don’t always know when I will have an episode, where I will be when it happens, or if there will be anyone there to help me.
Since Roca came into my life, I know I will never be alone, and she will always be there to lend a helping paw when I need one. Every day she astounds me with her loyalty, love, assistance and beautiful spirit! I don’t know what crosses lay ahead of me in my life, but no matter what they happen to be I know that, thanks to Roca, I won’t have to face them alone.
Some say that love is a four-legged word; after knowing Roca I couldn’t agree more! Special thanks to my parents and family, for all of their support and love!
Thank you to Roca’s breeder, RiverRidge Rottweilers, for bringing Roca and me together, to the trainers that have assisted me with her training, and to Dallas Kelley (DOnndrea Photography) for photography and filmography.
And a very special thanks to Roca herself, for finding me on my knees and giving me wings!