Looking Back at the First 90 Days with Orbit
Below is a piece written by Orbit’s recipient. Orbit is a service dog placed with a veteran in San Diego in Fall of 2018. “I am an Army veteran that served near the Kuwaiti border during the Gulf War. While I was in combat I was exposed to serin and cycloserin nerve gas, which has affected my cognitive function and damaged my nervous system. I am mobile and fairly high functioning, but I have difficulty with too much stimulation, e.g., new environments, crowds, multiple people talking at once, and multitasking. I also have chronic PTSD.On the second day of team training, my nervous system became overwhelmed and I started having difficulty understanding words and communicating. I had to leave class and go to my hotel room to rest. I was encouraged to take Orbit with me, but I was hesitant. We’d only been together about 36 hours. What would happen? Could I handle an unfamiliar dog when I was in that state? I went back to my room with Orbit at my side, I sat on the floor with my head in my hands feeling dazed and confused and unable to control my emotion. Orbit started licking me on my face and neck, I laid down onto the floor and Orbit laid across my body, applying deep pressure to calm my nervous system, his head poised on my chest and his eyes looking deeply into mine. Since that day my life has never been the same. Orbit has changed my life in a multitude of ways in only the first three months. In the experience I described above, I felt a comfort that I had never felt before. My entire nervous system became calm almost immediately. This was a new feeling for me. Adding to that sensation, I did not have to explain anything to him. I didn’t give him any cues, he just tuned into my body language and responded. When I am triggered or overstimulated I have a lot of difficulty explaining to people—even to those close to me—how to help me. With Orbit, I didn’t have to try to form words and explain, he knew what to do. It was an amazing experience. Later in team training I learned that Orbit had been trained to respond to specific cues for for the behavior he performed. Now, in a word, I can request his assistance if he hasn’t picked up on my triggers already. He’s my guardian angel.Orbit goes with me everywhere and I love having him by my side. He’s enabled me to do things with much greater ease and with a deep sense of peace. He also serves as a mobility aid in the evenings when I often experience vertigo. We have a cue called, “brace” where he stabilizes his hips and shoulders so I can steady myself on his shoulders when I stand from a sitting position. Adding to deep pressure application and being a mobility aid, Orbit has definitely helped me begin to overcome my tendency to isolate myself, a symptom of my condition. I have cues to utilize that help me interact with the public, it’s much easier to talk to people with Orbit at my side. If I am not feeling like I can talk I can cue him,“Wave,” which always brings a smile to people’s faces and makes me feel more engaged with life. At the end of team training I was given a suggestion by the TLCAD staff: take Orbit out to a new place every day if you can. At the time I was thinking that would be impossible and kind of laughed to myself at the thought of me being able to do that. But, very quickly, I realized that it would be great for him to get out and see new things and I started to really enjoy our adventures, even if only a trip to a local grocery store or to take a walk in a new part of town. I believe these outings helped us strengthen our bond quickly, too. Orbit is a service dog after all, not a machine, and there have been challenges along the way. Neighborhood leash walking was probably the most difficult task to master early on, but if you’re matched to a service dog don’t worry, the two of you will bond quickly and things will get easier in time. Patience is key! There were other “hiccups,” albeit very few. My personal experience was that mastering these challenges strengthened the bond between me and Orbit. I am forever grateful to TLCAD for matching Orbit and me as a team. I feel like a new person; much more capable, confident, and resilient. I have hope for my future. I am thankful for the care of the TLCAD staff to ensure Orbit and I got off to a good start, and thankful that they are there for me when I have questions or concerns. Thank you to the TLCAD board members and staff, the volunteers, the TLCAD trainers, the RJ Donovan inmate trainers, and to the generous donors. I am profoundly grateful. I thank all those involved in training Orbit to assist me, he has profoundly changed my life for the better.”Follow Orbit’s journey with Lorilei on Instagram @tlcadOrbit.