Holly Bunches of Oats — Your Average Wonder DogI waited a year and a half for Holly, but it felt like I had been waiting my entire life. Since my NEADS interview, I had imagined Holly — what color she might be, what her personality would be, what her favorite toys might be. I didn’t know what color cape she would wear, or even what the cape was called. But I knew her, even before I met her.
My husband and I would play, “the name game,” driving the hour to the doctors. We’d start with A, go through Z, and think of both male and female names. I don’t remember if we ever guessed Holly, but when Christy, her trainer, called and told me her name, “Holly,” it was perfect.
I walked around the house saying, “Holly,” in all sorts of tones and situations. It was the first thing I said when I woke up, and the last thing I whispered before going to sleep. I dreamt of her before I knew her name, but with her name, the dreams were even sweeter.
I was sitting on the bench in the training room of NEADS when Christy walked in with, seriously, the most adorable yellow lab I have ever seen. The first thing I did was joyfully belt out, “Holly-Bunches-of-Oats!!!” I have no idea why, she does not look anything like cereal, and the nickname didn’t stick.
Christy told me to be really fun and exciting with Holly, but it was difficult because I was in awe of this short, muscled, happy-go-lucky puppy. She was exactly the dog in my dreams, but a million times better.
Training was strenuous, for both of us. By the end of each day, it took all I had to walk back to the NEADS house, let alone study all of the handouts given to me, and walk, play, and feed Holly. I was assured it would become easier, that Holly and I would hit our stride. It took a while, but we are there. I know Holly’s moods, and she knows mine. I know how to handle the leash, when she needs a break, when she needs to visit the grass, and when she needs a good old fashioned hug. We still train every day, we cover almost every command there is, but it has become almost effortless, second nature.
We go to the grocery store and use half of the commands. We go to the backyard and use a quarter. To think that in five months these words have rooted themselves in my vocabulary, rather astonishes me. In training I had to think so hard about each word, that twice I woke myself in my sleep going, “eh eh eh,” the correction command.
Holly has opened the world up to me. I have visited places and attended events that I never ever would have even dreamt I could go. Including Niagara Falls, where Holly helped me with more than I can think of; she picked things up that I dropped, retrieved low items, heard and notified me of sounds that I can’t hear, carried items in her cape, held objects while my hands were busy, and so much more.
At home, Holly picks up and gives me each piece of my laundry. She brings the laundry basket in to my laundry room, and then brings it back to our apartment. She is constantly “fetching,” and tells me not only when there is a knock at the door, but also when my husband is going to pull in to the driveway. She helps put dishes away, and gets me food items from the bottom of my fridge so I can make my own lunch. She is my independence.
The most profound way Holly has helped me, is something that NEADS didn’t train her for. Before I was paired with Holly, I did not go to restaurants. There were many places I didn’t go, but restaurants in particular caused intense anxiety in me, so I just avoided them. This annoyed my mother to no end, who was always trying to persuade, or even bribe me, to go eat with her. Each time she brought the subject up, I felt ashamed, because I felt that I should go with her, that I must not be trying hard enough to overcome my anxiety. I tried to sort of practice with my husband, but I just could not seem to get out of the car. Every time I panicked, and pulling in to the parking lot felt like the weight of the world crushing me.
Holly has helped immensely to subdue my anxiety — a problem I did not even realize I had. I have since learned a lot about anxiety, and its reality. Restaurants still aren’t my favorite places, but I’ve been three times since I’ve had Holly. She always tells me where the people are, when the waiter is coming, and she never begs. She is so relaxed under the table, (sometimes she even starts snoring!), it’s hard not to feel at ease. Compared with my track record of zero times in many years, I feel that this is great tribute to my furry other half.
There is a priceless value to independence that not all independent people appreciate. Holly greatly minimizes that struggle, and has given my life back. I still find tough spots here and there, when people question why I have a Service Dog because they don’t see my disability. I always take the time to explain to them that disabilities come in many forms, from mobility impairment to PTSD, to deafness and blindness, to the results of surgical aftermath. Service dog or not, I feel that we are all a part of NEADS Nation.
Holly is more than a dog, or even a Service Dog. She is family, and she is a big part of who I am. In the five months we have been partners, she has become an extension of me. Without holding her leash in public, I don’t know what to do with my hands, how to act, or where to go. She has such a big personality too — she reminds me, well, of me. Me before I became disabled. She makes me more myself now though, just by being herself. She truly completes me.
Holly has come with many friends, both canine and human. It is impossible to be socially isolated, as I used to be, with a cute-as-a-button bouncy young lab. It is easier too, to become close with our new friends, when they no longer focus on the disability but rather who I am as a unit with Holly; an independent graduate student with a love of community and a strange amount of medical savvy.