Karen's Story: The Birth of 4 Paws

Chapter 2

Ben: The Magic Begins

I had no desire to get a puppy. I couldn’t care for myself; how then could I train a puppy? I’m not sure what happened the wonderful day that my service dog entered my life, but when I spotted him and he looked at me from the back of his pen, the magic began. I took that thirty-pound, black bundle of fur home and gave him the name “Ben, My Courage and Friend.”

I did not jump right back into life, but with Ben supporting me I inched closer and closer to life each day. As Ben grew, I faced new challenges. I learned quickly that very few agencies are willing to train an owned dog.

Ben and I had been attending classes at a local dog training school and he was quickly approaching the need for advanced service dog training. However, the club was helpful. Some of the volunteers worked with me, teaching me how to train for retrieval work. I applied to a dog training school in Columbus, Ohio, and they were willing to help.

One of the student trainers worked with Ben, and taught me to train him at home, and train we did! In 1996, I returned to work, with Ben right at my side!

With every day that passed I gained more confidence in living with this disease. I know there is no cure and I know my days are numbered, but with Ben I began living each and every day, and not missing a second. As I grew spiritually strong and looked back on the days since that first respiratory arrest, I found certain sadness there.

Each nigh,t as I watched Ben sleeping at my feet, I wondered how many others there were who needed the same miracles that Ben offered me. I wondered how many others were turned away because they didn’t fit the service dog agencies criteria.

Envisioning 4 Paws for Ability

4 Paws for Ability, Inc. was created with Ben at my side. He was there when I got the incorporation papers in the mail. He was there at the first board meeting, when I looked at those 12 people who would help make my dream a reality. He was at my side when I went to Children’s Hospital to tell a twelve-year-old child who’d had a spinal stroke that left her paralyzed that she would not be turned away because she was a child.

4 Paws grows daily. We’ve watched many dogs become service dogs and have placed many dogs with children. The results have been miraculous. Families have gotten their lives back. In those first years, we saw the following:

  • One child with autism is now safe from the dangers he might face when he wanders because Patches can track him within minutes.
  • A woman in New York traveled to 4 Paws, here in Ohio, to get a dog for emotional support. Ben was there when I read the letter, which said she had made her first trip to the store alone, and had no panic attack, but then she wasn’t really alone: Pepper was at her side.
  • Katie, a ten-year-old with seizures, slept in her own bed for the first time with Roxie beside her keeping watch. Roxie will bark if Katie has a seizure so Mom and Dad can come to help.
  • A mom in Anchorage, Alaska says, “Our family is absolutely overcome by how much Halo has changed our lives. I just wanted to thank you for making our lives so much better, for putting the joy back into our days. You really did. My goal for Leo is just that he can be happier. Halo does that, she makes him happier. I don’t know if I told you this yet or not, but he is sleeping in his own bed the entire night. For the first time in four years.”

With each new ability I lost to MG, Ben learned a new skill to help in that area of need. I credit Ben for saving my life twice.

  1. The first was when he came to my life as a puppy and brought with him the magic, which gave me the will to fight again.
  2. The second was after open-heart surgery when I returned home on a morphine pump and a deadly combination of medications left me barely conscious and fighting for life. When the phone rang, Ben, who is trained to retrieve it on command, picked it up and lay it beside me. He then began to bark. It was my dad who called and he knew right away that something was wrong. If Ben had waited for a command from me, the answering machine would have come on and most likely, my nurse would have arrived the next morning to find me dead.

Ben diagnosed with Degenerative Mylopathy

After almost eight years, my Ben was diagnosed with Degenerative Mylopathy, a neurological condition that causes progressive paralysis in the back legs. There is no real treatment and no cure. We spent a horrid week at Ohio State University only to walk away with the words, “There is nothing we can do. Retire him.”

Holding to the hope that it would slow the progression, I followed their advice and retired him. When he walked he dragged his feet and the toenails were ripped open. I saw no alternative. Ben, stepped up to the plate. He had walked beside me as I fought my disease and the lessons he has taught were not to end there.

In April of 2002 I took Ben on a week vacation to experience his final moments of life with joy, and then, with a final walk through the 40 acres of woods which had been his kingdom for most all of his life, I helped Ben return to a place where all dogs run and play, where there are bones growing on trees, and treats fall from the sky.

Ben lives on in the hearts of everyone who met him, yet none so strongly as mine. While other dogs have come to walk beside me, none will ever quite be able to walk in his pawprints, and none will ever fill the gap in my heart waiting to be filled once more when I join him at the “rainbow bridge.”

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