While Soleil used to receive stares for being a young person using a wheelchair, stares now are usually for a much larger reason—a Great Dane-mix Mobility Assist Dog. Soleil always loved the gentle giant breed and adopted Gandalf as a puppy with the intention of him becoming an assistance dog. They had grown up with dogs, participated in 4H, and were confident in training a Great Dane to be a working companion.
Still, while working for the Department of Corrections, Soleil heard about Can Do Canines and decided to explore the opportunity for further guidance in training Gandalf. Hoping for ongoing support and instruction as their disability progressed, they applied to become an owner-provided team through the organization.
For most of their life, Soleil has managed multiple mobility conditions, which include fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and other diagnoses that cause fatigue, dizziness and nausea. Most recently, a specialist diagnosed them with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. Soleil shares, “I was actually starting to pass out sometimes from doing things that I shouldn’t be doing,” while home alone. Some days they can walk, others, they need a wheelchair; it all depends on their pain level and energy. Standing up and bending over caused intense discomfort, and doing the simplest task was a danger. The combined symptoms have caused “a big impact on my family and friends because I don’t drive or work, so I need help getting to appointments and around the house. It also limits time with friends because I get really exhausted really quickly.” Having to choose every day between leaving things undone or the consequences of doing chores was detrimental for Soleil. Gandalf, now 2 years old, is helping to mitigate Soleil’s health complications and provides a greater sense of independence.
A Huge Help to the Rescue
The team has grown and evolved to accomplish great things over the past two years. “We just do everything together. He’s always got an eye on me. He’s always ready to help,” says Soleil. Laundry used to be a tedious task for them, but Gandalf now pulls clothing out of the machines, drops clothes into a basket, and closes the doors when everything is where it should be. He picks up dropped items, brings objects to the trash and recycling, gets his bowl for meals, and tugs doors closed and drawers open. Gandalf can also steady Soleil as they stand up, lay on her upper body to provide warmth and light pressure therapy, and alert them to a timer going off when they need to take medications. If they don't respond quickly enough, Gandalf will go alert Soleil’s husband to come check on them.
Soleil was sometimes nervous about taking him out in public as a representation of the assistance dog community. They felt “pressure to be perfect,” but the more they went out with staff guidance, the more confident they felt. “Getting to work with my trainer has helped me not worry and just know he is doing his job.” In public, Gandalf activates the automatic door buttons when they’re in their wheelchair and retrieves items that they previously had to ask strangers to get. The constant pain and dizziness that Soleil faced is now alleviated, and they have more energy to spend on more enjoyable activities. “He really is my best friend. My life is so much better with him. We have our own language in the things we do throughout the day.”
An All-Around Success, Thanks to You
Can Do Canines provided the accessible instruction that Soleil needed to succeed with training Gandalf as her Mobility Assist Dog. “If he wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know what to do. There are so many things he does to make my life smoother and independent, where before, I was really struggling.” Soleil's community is considerably less worried for their safety since Gandalf is excited to have more jobs to do.