||Two years old|
||Berkeley, California, USA |
Following a serious traumatic brain injury, I spent three years in bed and had to learn to basically function again ... walking without assistance, remembering to do things like eat was a chore, etc. The aftereffects of my injury is a severely compromised short-term memory and a brain-disconnect that causes me to fall unexpectedly.
While reclaiming my life, I found that the most challenging part was that of travel. Many of my frequent flier membership numbers have been flagged by the airlines because I have fallen several times on the jetway and the insurance will not cover me unless I am in a wheelchair.
The downside to this is that there is oftentimes no one available to push the chair and I have missed or nearly missed connections because of this. After a number of similar issues, my son, completely frustrated, encouraged me to seek out an assistance animal.
I applied for a mobility support animal and was presented with the sweetest female white Labrador, and while she was clearly capable of assisting me, she was extremely compliant, which is something that I do not need. The brain injury has given me a condition that makes it so I think I am fine, but the reality is that I am far from it, and should probably be in bed.
Because of this, we felt it best to look for another breed that would be able to assist me, but would not be too compliant; that is, would not allow me to do something stupid like walk into a burning building. After careful research and study, we decided on a Tibetan Mastiff.
I love the lines of the Asian breeds and was impressed with the intelligence and tenacity of the breed. I had some very specific requirements and was ready to go to Tibet to find one until I came across a wonderful breeder in North Carolina. The family had lived in Tibet for 20 years and had raised more than ten dogs. They brought four of their favorites with them to North Carolina and had just had their first US litter of 13 puppies. I contacted them and gave them my specifics.
The breeder in turn, had their puppies evaluated by several service trainers and were able to narrow the selection down to two, and after looking at what I needed and wanted, selected a beautiful male puppy for me. He was sent to me in California when he was 8 weeks old - 18 pounds of fluff - including the crate!! From there, he was with a trainer after his first night in his new home. He has learned to open and close doors, turn lights on and off, and even fetch things from the refrigerator.
The most remarkable things Kekoa does, however, were completely self taught! When I have a bad day or am not feeling my best, he will stand on the steps at the foot of my bed and literally bark me back to bed. If I am up and about and he does not feel that it is wise for me to go anywhere, he will lie across the threshold of my door and growl at me if I try to leave. He reminds me when it is time to eat and when I need to take my medication. If he feels that I am up too long, he will not only shut my lights off, but he will also turn off the power strip to my computer. I had to change from a desktop computer to a laptop for just this reason.
He has learned the triggers to my falling and will pin me to a wall, direct me to a seat, or lean into me to brace me from falling down; not releasing me until he feels it is safe for me to continue. There have been times where he has caught me mid-fall or has had to physically pick me up off the ground. At his current weight of 130 pounds, he is a force to be reckoned with and can be intimidating to strangers, but for the most part, at least for me, he is the sweetest, gentlest puppy I have ever had.
He is still growing and learning. Airports and airline travel is our next big adventure. We are hoping to get him to be comfortable enough to ride a plane for at least five hours (my relatives in Hawai'i want to meet him). He is still with a trainer for some things, but since he is mostly self-taught, he does not see his trainer nearly as much as he did in the beginning.
We call him Kekoa - my hula teacher told me that we shouldn't use the name, Keali'i, because all Keali'is are jerks! Kekoa translates to "Of the Koa Tree" and is given, usually to males, as a blessing for strength and bravery. Keali'i translates to "of the king/royalty" and usually means mom's favorite.
He has a facebook page (facebook/kekoa.puppy) and an instagram account that was initiated by my son's girlfriend when we had all the Disneyland images of Kekoa. He is like a three-year-old child at Disneyland - he loves meeting the characters and has dragged me all over the park on a 104°F (40°C) day when I just wanted to go home. He definitely has a sense of humor! Because we draw a crowd everywhere we go, he has learned to look for the name badges of the cast members. He will only allow cast members and characters to touch him. Halloween really confused him, though!
He is my best friend and constant companion. I do not know how I made it without him and I feel lost when he is not by my side. He finds a way to amaze me every day!