The following story comes to us from Jodi Laycock of Luseland, Saskatchewan.
As a child growing up in the 1970s I always had a tendency to display odd behaviours that would often get me in trouble, like pinching or poking other children and making strange sounds or wild, disruptive gestures.
“Stop that,” I was told.
“You’re causing a scene.”
“You need to learn to behave.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
I heard this day in and day out, and I would retreat deeper into myself, knowing that I had no control over my ‘traits.’
I began to avoid going out into public. Soon I got a reputation as a fun crusher, because I’d never accept invitations to go anywhere. With time, people simply stopped inviting me. So again, I spent more time alone, wondering why I couldn’t just act ‘normal.’ I was very aware of what I was doing. I knew it as my hand slammed into my nose over and over so hard it nearly broke: I simply couldn’t stop.
Growing up I was lucky enough to travel the world with my family. As a teen I lived in Switzerland, where I began to seek out medical help. Not just seek it out, but force the doctors to run tests to determine what was going on once and for all. I seriously believed that I might just be ‘crazy.’ I mean, sure I did all these odd things, but not all the time. If nothing was wrong with me medically, then I prayed that they would at least send me to a ‘shrink.’ Something. Anything.
The diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome came back. “Yeah right,” I thought. I don’t shout profanities like I see on TV. So on I went to another neurologist. And another. And another. All of them came back with the same diagnosis. They explained to me that Tourette does not always involve coprolalia. They also explained that there was no cure, and that it was something that I must learn to live with. The tics would change, coming and going, appearing and disappearing throughout my life. I would never be free of this condition that steps in and takes over my movements before I can blink or do anything to stop it. How could I live a full life? “That’s not living,” I thought.
When I was 25, I met a man who understood my condition clearly, and we got married. He helped me make light of my TS and encouraged me to recognize that everyone is different, not just me. Being imperfectly perfect is okay, too. We had a son. I tried to give my son a full life. He was active in every sport that we could involve him in. This forced me to be out in the public eye once again, still not a comfortable place for me.
The years passed and I learned how to hide or cover many of my tics. People have commented, “Oh, I never knew you had Tourette’s.” Hiding the twitches becomes an art form as one gets older. I was an artist.
My son grew into a wonderful adult, moved out on his own, and I was left at home with a husband whose work took him away from me much of the time. I had less reason to get out and be social, so I didn’t. I have a wonderfully huge landscaped property, and I could walk my dogs—three Great Danes—in peace without any eyes on me. Our town even delivers groceries. Leaving the house became a rarity. My dogs certainly never laughed at my tics or asked me to stop doing them. They never once asked what was ‘wrong with me.’ I began to hide in this insulated world. But I knew it was wrong. No 44-year-old should spend their days avoiding other people, and depression set in.
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My Great Danes are very intuitive. They can read my emotions easily and react accordingly. Not only are they giants, they’re ‘leaners’ by nature. This means that they like to lean their body into and against you an awful lot.
I became very involved in the online Great Dane community. It was a way for me to be social without anyone judging me because of my disorder. I’ve made many wonderful online friends from around the world. In doing so I came upon two wonderful women who were breeding their dogs.
I’ve seen service dogs, and in the USA dogs are used for therapy and emotional support. I began looking into the laws in my area. In Canada, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs are not given public access, only service dogs, who must be Assistance Dog International (ADI) trained and certified. To be a service dog, a dog must be trained to accomplish a minimum of two service tasks. Not only must the dog be ADI certified, he or she also must come from ADI breeding facilities, and ADI breeding facilities only breed retriever/lab crosses, sadly. A lab/retriever would not be suitable for my needs, as they wouldn’t have the necessary size or weight, which I’ll explain.
Luckily, I live in Saskatchewan. It’s the last remaining province with ‘archaic’ legislation. Residents of Saskatchewan can have dogs of other breeds providing they meet training qualifications set out by ADI.
I was fortunate enough to receive the most beautiful Great Dane pup, Sabbath. He was born on Boxing Day 2013 in Ohio thanks to these two breeders who wanted me to be able to use one of their Great Danes as a service animal. They believed his size and temperament would be a perfect match for me, and trusted me with his care based on my experience with Great Danes.
I was thrilled. They sent me daily pictures, along with detailed information gathered during routine puppy vet checks. On April 1st, 2014, Sabbath flew to us from Ohio and was welcomed into our family with loving arms.
I take this responsibility with great respect and seriousness. His training will continue and he will be able to perform his two tasks as required by law. His tasks will specifically fall under the designation of a medical alert dog. He will alert me to slight physical changes in myself that I may not recognize in time to step away from a situation that would be harmful to myself or others. As his second task he will have the ability to pin me against a wall by leaning (a natural Great Dane trait), to help keep me from harm.
Life With Sabbath
Sabbath is now 5 months old and he’s amazing. He’s been by my side since he arrived, becoming used to me and familiar with my symptoms. He’s been in large stores like Costco and Wal-Mart, and accompanied me to hospital appointments and testing, all the while behaving like a perfect gentleman. He’s given me a chance to talk to people who stop us to ask what type of medical alert he’s being trained for, a great opportunity to explain to people what Tourette is and what it isn’t.
Sabbath is helping me leave my house with more confidence so that I no longer feel house bound.
I am happy. Truly, deeply happy. Happy that I can see an opportunity to break free from these chains of retreat and get out. Be a part of my community. Have a life. I believe that with help from my new friend Sabbath this will be possible.
I’d like to thank my community of Luseland, Saskatchewan and everyone else for welcoming Sabbath with such love and hope, and to send a special thank you to Donna Bond, Tonya Bohannon and Pam Baxter.