The Gift of Independence

By Celeste Williams, Service Dog program Graduate

Celeste and Cimmaron practice walking together during Team Training at SDI.

Celeste and Cimmaron practice walking together during Team Training at SDI.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the San Antonio Association of Professional Landmen for donating the money to allow Service Dogs, Inc. (formerly Texas Hearing and Service Dogs) to train Cimmaron to assist me with my daily activities – to make my daily life a little easier and to help me maintain my independence.

First, I’ll tell you about me and why I sought a Service Dogs’ assistance. In 1974, my senior year of high school, I lost my left leg to bone cancer. I lost all three joints of the leg, which made it difficult to use a prosthesis. In addition to the weight and discomfort of the thing, when using the prosthesis, I had to stay on level, flat surfaces. If I walked on a slanted or uneven surface, the knee would buckle and I would fall. I therefore opted to walk on crutches, because I felt more independent on them. Of course, I still needed some assistance, primarily to carry things. I still fell, but it was easier to get up without the prosthesis. At 17, I worked hard to adapt, maintain my independence and to try to fit in. I graduated from high school, followed my brother to Baylor University and graduated from there in 1978.

Walking on crutches, and the many falls I took along the way, started to take a toll on my body. In addition, I also worked on computers and I developed carpal tunnel issues. I began having surgeries to keep going – from carpal tunnel releases to joint repairs. While recovering from each of these surgeries, I had to be in a wheelchair. I hated being in the wheelchair and I kept going straight back to the crutches as soon as possible after the doctors released me to do so. In 2006, I needed to have the right shoulder repaired. To add insult to injury, the left shoulder (that had been repaired in 2001) needed to be replaced. That is when I realized that I could not return to full time crutch usage. After I had the right shoulder repair, I finally decided it was time to swallow my pride and use the wheelchair as my primary means of ambulation. I started using a power wheelchair in public, a manual wheelchair at home and the crutches very sparingly.

In the wheelchair, I felt more and more of my independence slipping away. Doorways were harder to navigate than on crutches, and it hurt my pride to have to ask others to hold doors for me to simply go in and out of buildings. I even hurt myself by running into walls or having doors slam on me by trying to “do it myself”. The hand and arm issues I have cause me to frequently drop things.

Then, Cimmaron entered my life. He helps me with lighter weight doors. We are working on training him to handle some heavier doors. It is a very complex behavior, so we are still working on those. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they set the tension on doors so tight that they are so difficult to open!

Where Cimmaron really excels is in picking up the things that I so frequently drop. So far the only thing he hasn’t been able to pick up for me is a clipboard.

Cimmaron is also a good ambassador. When we are out in public, a lot of people don’t understand the concept or the purpose of a Service Dog. We often overhear people talking about us – “What’s that dog doing in here?!?” Sometimes, they will just come up and ask me directly. Cimmaron is always more than happy to show them why he is with me. I’ll drop my keys or my cell phone and ask Cimmaron to “get it”. He always enthusiastically picks it up and gives it to me. That is when the person “gets it” and understands a little about how Cimmaron helps me. They are amazed when he picks up my keys. They are awed when he picks up my cell phone. (I must admit, I’m amazed myself that he can pick up my phone, because it is very flat.)

Another thing he can do is to help me take my jacket or sweater off. With my arm and shoulder issues, this can be very difficult for me to do on my own.

In addition to helping me with my physical needs, Cimmaron is also a great companion for me. He is a very sweet, smart and gentle young man. He is a morale booster for me and for others. I frequently see faces light up when we walk down the hall or aisle. People frequently comment on how well behaved he is and how hard it is not to love on him.

To sum it up, I cannot fully express how much I appreciate the financing you provided to fund the training of Cimmaron. Maybe the name I gave him can help. Cimmaron is the name Service Dogs, Inc. gave him. It is his “working” name, and I am the only one that uses it. They encourage us to give a different name for others to use so that he is not distracted. I tell them to use the name Shiloh. It means “His gift”, which is how I feel about him. He is a gift from God, made possible by you, through the work and dedication of the people of Service Dogs, Inc.

Gratefully yours,

Celeste Williams

Service Dogs, Inc. adopted Cimmaron from the Williamson County Animal Care Center, Round Rock. He is a Pointer/Lab Mix. A gift from the San Antonio Association of Professional Landmen sponsored Celeste’s and Cimmaron’s training.