Kendall Winship blogs about her experiences training her service dog and constant companion, Watson, who alerts her before a migraine. Here she shares a small excerpt about life with Watson.
In the nine months of sharing my life with Watson, my golden retriever, he has alerted over a hundred times to impending migraines. He warns me before I hop into the car, dive into a pool or sit down to take an exam. He brings me my medication and water bottle from the fridge, turns off the lights and picks up items that my trembling fingers drop. If my preventative medication doesn’t work, then he accompanies me to the Emergency Room, lies across my numb legs and licks my drooping face. Watson is the reason I can attend college and drive my car and live independently without fear of a migraine attack. Without this dog, my life would be very different indeed.
Watson was born to become my service dog. As a Golden Retriever, his breed is exceptionally suited for service, but Watson in particular was chosen from his litter because of his intelligence, easy-going nature and drive to help. He was selected to become my partner and companion for the next eight to ten years, and although at the time there were no guarantees that he would be able to alert to my migraines, much less surpass the rigorous training requirements for a service dog, he has exceeded my expectations.
Prior to Watson, my migraines would strike without warning. My face would droop. I would throw up for hours. I missed class and became terrified to venture out into the world least I become incapacitated at any moment. Watson is one of the few dogs that can alert to migraines before the victim even knows the danger, giving me precious time to take my preventative pain medication. He alerts about thirty to forty-five minutes in advance, and when the migraine does strike, I was minimally affected. I might have a slight headache or feel a little dizzy, but I am still able to function perfectly fine.
Alerting to my migraines is only part of Watson’s job. Because he is not a machine and does sometimes miss a migraine due to fatigue or stress, I have taught Watson how to help me endure a migraine. He will open the fridge and bring me water. He can open cabinets and unzip my bag and drag a blanket over to me. He does Deep Pressure Therapy, driving his elbows into my legs to help relieve pain, and he retrieves items that I drop on accident. Thanks to Watson my life is easier when he does miss a migraine and I have to endure an attack.
In order for a dog to be considered a service dog, they not only must be trained in at least one task (providing mobility aid or fetching medication for example) but they are also trained extensively in public access work. Because service dogs have the privilege to accompany their handlers everywhere the general public is permitted to go, they are trained to ride elevators, escalators, trains, planes and busses. They are taught to patiently wait under chairs at restaurants and movie theaters. They are trained not to sniff or interact with the public, but to always be attentive to their handler’s needs. True service dogs are invisible, serving their handler and navigating the world with grace. The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone gasps in shock and exclaims, “I didn’t even know you had a dog!”
Kendall and Watson
Life with a service dog is a bit like living with a two year old. Each dog has a unique temperament and style. Watson radiates enthusiasm for working. He walks with a bounce in his step and a swagger in his stride. When out of vest and not actively working, he is always trying to play. His favorite toys are socks and water bottles. In public he is more serious and focused, but his tail never stops wagging. Thanks to Watson, I have made countless friends and have been given many valuable experiences.
Service dogs can be trained to perform many tasks and can be any breed. In order to determine if you qualify for a service dog, you must have a long-term disability that severely limits your quality of life, and if you might benefit from a service dog, it’s important to remember that training these dogs can take up to two intense, exhausting years. All service dogs, even program trained ones such as the Leader Dogs of America or Canine Companions, needs constant upkeep and work to maintain their high standards of training. A service dog is not a guarantee nor a miracle solution; working as a team takes patience, practice and persistence.
For myself, a service dog was the best solution for my disability. Watson is still fairly young, and has his moments when he acts out and refuses to listen. There are days when people stare and ask rude questions and I wish for peaceful anonymity. But there has never been a time when I regretted my decision to train Watson and bring him into my life. He will graduate college with me, watch me become a Special Education teacher and even accompany me down the aisle. He will be at my side through the next decade of challenges, tragedies, triumphs and adventures. Without my faithful golden shadow, my life would be very different indeed. The next ten years of my life are going to be an adventure indeed!
Thank you for sharing your journey with Watson with us Kendall! You can read more from Kendall’s blog here: https://goo.gl/pp3DTOr/
To better understand your migraines, you can download the Migraine Buddy tracking app on Google Play or Apple App Store.
Migraine Buddy is an advanced migraine headache diary and tracking app designed by neurologists and data scientist. It is rated as the #1 Migraine App, with advanced reporting & exports and automatic tracking of pressure, weather and sleep!