Bright Light

I am sorry that I dropped away into silence for so long. I’ll try to update on the family soon, but overall, I am finally seeing real healing in all areas, Kathryn’s seizures have calmed way down, and everyone is pretty healthy, overall. We actually seem to have moved into a place of calm for the first time in many, many months.

This is our family blog, but if you also follow my personal blog, you have probably already read about the heartbreaking loss of our beloved Saxon in October. And then just last week, we also lost our very special rescue dog, Godfrey. Both of these dogs were such loved, key members of our family, and although they had good, long lives, we didn’t want to say goodbye. That’s the really terrible part of pet ownership. We have cried many tears.

But something amazing happened on Wednesday. If you follow me on Facebook, it’s likely that you already know. But just in case, I’m going to share this incredible story here, too.

When we signed our contract with 4 Paws for Kathryn’s seizure dog many months ago, we had to agree not to add any new dogs to our family until a full year after Kathryn’s seizure dog was placed with us. This is a policy that is in place to protect these highly-trained service dogs, and the bond between the dogs and the children they serve. Because Covid has slowed down the 4 Paws training classes, the wait for Kathryn’s dog is still about two years long. Add on the extra year we then have to wait, and that meant that our kids would have to go about three years with no family dog. (We still have Teddy, but he is exclusively Erin’s dog, and Silke, who is such a sweet, sweet dog, has never been able to bond deeply with the kids in spite of the way she quietly places herself beside Kathryn when she senses that Kathryn is struggling. It seemed unlikely that she would ever be able to fill the role of the family dog, and we worried a bit about overwhelming her.)

We knew, when we signed that contract, that Saxon and Godfrey, who were both very much family dogs, were both nearing the end of their lives. We also felt strongly that our children who have been through so much trauma in their past lives would really need a dog in that role in order to help them continue to heal. Dogs have been a part our family dynamic, hence a part of all our children’s healing processes, for over forty years. But we believed God was opening the doors that would eventually connect Kathryn and her special dog, so we signed the contract and trusted him with the events down the road.

When our sweet dogs died over these past three months, we watched the kids struggle with that loss and with the sad knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to get another dog for the next three years. We discussed contacting 4 Paws and asking if they might make an exception because of our family’s unusual situation, but we never felt right about doing that. So we prayed.

Last Wednesday, I spent some time alone, praying very specifically about this whole situation, asking God to show us what we needed to do, if anything. I always know that His love for our kids and his wisdom about what our kids really need is perfect, and that we can trust him to lead us. Two days later, we, as a 4 Paws family-in-waiting, were notified by 4 Paws with the hugely surprising news that they had suddenly changed their long-standing policy about adding new dogs to the home! While they still wouldn’t allow dogs from any other source to be added to the family, they decided to begin allowing families-in-waiting to adopt their Canine Companion/Emotional Support Animal (CC/ESA) dogs! These are dogs who, at some point in their service dog training, show that they aren’t capable of continuing the advanced training required to be a service dog. They are still highly bred and highly trained, but one or more aspects about their personalities prevents them from qualifying to continue on to actual service dogs. We couldn’t believe it! Was this an answer to our prayers? We wanted to be sure, so we continued to pray and asked a few close friends to pray with us. We also didn’t know how we could come up with the adoption fee, which was a tiny fraction of the cost of a service dog, but still more than we could pay ourselves.

One of the people praying for us was my precious mother. She surprised us greatly when she sweetly asked us to please, please allow her to be the one to pay this adoption fee and gift this dog to the children. She wanted with all her heart to be the one to bless them with this new dog as she also had been worrying about them not having a family pet. This made the whole thing even more special to all of us.

We were just blown away by how this was all unfolding, so this past Sunday, we wrote an email to the CEO of 4 Paws, explaining our family’s situation and asking if we would qualify for one of these dogs. And we submitted an online application. This CEO and I chatted on Monday as she explained the details of this program to me and confirmed that we had been approved to adopt one of these dogs. But she also told us that it would take several months, or even a year, before a dog would become available for us to adopt. We gathered the kids at that time and told them about the whole thing. They were so excited and seemed okay about waiting a few months before having a new dog added to the family.

As I said, that was on Monday. The next day, Tuesday, we got a message in the morning telling us that they suddenly had a dog available that seemed perfect for our family and asking if we would be interested in a one-year-old female golden retriever. Would we!? YES! They asked how soon we could come to get her. Suddenly, “several months, or even a year” turned into ONE DAY!

Scott and I drove to Dayton early Wednesday morning and got to see the 4 Paws facility where Kathryn and we will do her training once it’s time for her service dog, and we also got to meet some of the 4 Paws staff (masks and distancing all in place). But most importantly, we met our new dog.

This is Ellie. She is so sweet and gentle, very intelligent and obedient, and highly trained — but also a little independent. She flunked out of the service dog program when she refused to submit to using a leash in the way required to be a service dog. Which landed her in our arms.

Her name means, “bright light,” And we have to say that, after these really hard past couple of years, she is a shining light of hope and joy for all of us. Also, she was born on March 20, 2019. That date probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to most people, but as Ellie was entering the world that day, Lilyan was in the operating room for fourteen hours, literally fighting for her life during the last three hours of that time. That was the day we almost lost our girl. As Lilyan continued to fight hard over the next 6-8 months, Ellie began her early training and socialization, and God started preparing her for us.

This is such an amazing story; we are still pinching ourselves! We can’t wait to start sharing Ellie stories with all of you. Here are a few pictures of her first evening with us, and her first meeting with our local grandchildren. Celebrate with us as we accept this most incredible gift!

Welcome to this big, crazy family, Ellie
Committing her heart to Kathryn, as Kathryn waits for her seizure dog someday
She even sat and watched The Mandalorian with us for awhile.
Ellie with two of our granddaughters
Taking a little break from all of her hard play with her new kids
Our beautiful new Ellie, “bright light” for our whole family.

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