Making the Match: Liz & Pixie Celebrate Their One Year Anniversary
Team Liz & Pixie were matched last year just a little over 2 months after the pandemic lockdown began. In still continuing treatment for not one, but two life altering illnesses, Liz contacted A Better Pet LLC to learn about service dog placement and training. As it happened, Rachel had the perfect candidate trained and ready for Liz. She was Pixie, a super puppy from Franny’s first litter. Liz and her mother Tiffeani arrived to Cleveland and met Pixie just 3 days after first contact with A Better Pet on May 26, 2020! And in a whirlwind of perfect alignment, Liz & Pixie’s connection was instantaneous and they officially began their partnership within hours of first meeting. [While not common, it has happened before with a service dog raised and trained by A Better Pet.] This incredible dog has helped Liz recover her normal life while living with medical disabilities. While some of Pixie’s manners have become a little dusty due to quarantining, her attentiveness and care for alerting and retrieving items for Liz has been unflinching. As you will read in our interview, Liz and her mother, Tiffeani, are eternally grateful to Rachel and by extension, the village of other people and dogs that helped raise Pixie during her first 19 months. She has helped Liz grow her self advocacy skills and learn how to successfully navigate life with a service dog.
[ CLICK HERE or scroll to bottom of this post to watch a video to learn more about what brought Liz to A Better Pet and her first 3 months partnered with Pixie (August 2020).
Liz, what are you up to these days and how is Pixie doing?
Liz: I’m now in school and working from home and it’s been great.
For a time, I was working in a medical office and it was a little hard to balance life and the hustle and bustle of work in the office with a service dog… Pixie was with me every day at my office job.
We were moving around a lot in the office and, unfortunately, my job was not as willing to accommodate us as one would hope. It was often treated as an inconvenience and Rachel has actually taught me very well to advocate for myself and to understand my rights. She taught me about what the rules and laws require and her support really gives you the confidence you need to advocate for yourself! The service animal laws come from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act. It was better for Pixie and I not to stay at the office.
Working at home allows me to take Pixie on long walks multiple times a day and we have a field by my apartment that she absolutely loves to go crazy in!
Over lockdown we did get a little out of practice… Like, while stuck at home I don’t expect her to stay in a perfect heel 24/7. Now we have needed to relearn using a shopping cart and stuff like that out in public. But, we are getting back in the rhythm now that it is spring and are back out in the world.
Overall, Pixie continues to do quite well, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Pixie was a bit older than other service dogs when I got her and was already so well trained. It has been really crazy so far this year with COVID but it’s still true that Pixie is my better half!
What service dog skills and help with your daily life needs do you continue to work on with Pixie? Are there any new skills she has developed?
Liz: Because we were paired during COVID and lots of my training with Pixie was during lockdown, we have really learned a lot together. Pixie and I really had to learn how to bond.
Rachel did set me up quite well.
The biggest thing Rachel does in her training and something she talks a lot about is a dog’s body language and how to understand what Pixie is trying to tell me. These are subtle things that other trainers don’t really focus on. Rachel is really in tune with the dog’s needs and wants. I learned to understand what Pixie needs and wants. Rachel has taught me how to be in tune with Pixie.
With this being said, Pixie and my connection was instantaneous! Pixie just knew what I needed, she just knew! Our match happened quickly. We had reached out to Rachel, met Pixie and then within a few days we were back in DC.
Pixie’s retrievals, my mom can tell you more, were almost instantaneous and we taught her these within about 20 minutes. Pixie is brilliant.
Tiffeani: It was less than 20 minutes, about maybe 10 for basic retrieval and then like 20 for fairly complicated.
Liz: For the complicated, Pixie can go down the steps, into my room, under the bed to find the medications if I need her to.
I trained her by having her sit and then I would just do it step by step.
I’d say “Pixie take this” and then hand her my meds and then I would place them on the floor and she would pick them up. Next, I would place them in the other room and then she would be able to get my meds wherever they were.
Training activities can be funny. Now she is so comfortable with me and because Pixie is so smart she now knows when it is training and when it is a real job. Sometimes with training, she will wait for me to pull out the good treats, but anytime I’ve ever really needed her to do something for me she just does it. When I’m having a real pain episode, 100% she can sense it in my body, she just knows
Tiffeani: That is the only downside to her being so smart! She knows when she can push boundaries, she’s like, I already know this skill, why are you training me again? Ha.
Liz: Pixie has started to do something new with my medical alerts, she started doing them without us even training her. At first, she would sit down next to me and paw me, make eye contact to alert me. But, then for my severe pain episodes, she started to do something different.
At first we didn’t know what she was doing. She would sit down next to me and be very incessant to get my attention when I was doing homework or something. We would take her outside because we thought maybe she needed to go to the bathroom. However, she started doing this even when we were outside and we’d say “she doesn’t need to pee, she’s on grass!” Something else is obviously going on…
But, then my mom brought up the idea that, “maybe she is trying to alert you to something?”
So then I tried taking my pain medication a little earlier. I did end up having a pain episode but it was drastically better because I had already taken my pain medication hours earlier. So my pain medications were already working and I didn’t have an hour or two hoping they would kick in. Pixie helped me be preventative.
To be honest, I only need her like one time in twenty times from what I used to need. It’s not life or death like it used to be. Pixie helped with these preventative measures so much. I mean, I need Pixie but it is not necessary in the way it was at the beginning. She has helped me become healthy!
Pixie is the reason I was able to get better. I was completely bed bound when Pixie and I started working together, and now I’m working out, and am able to work full time. I can go out—be busy and not think about my health 24/7 and to have a really pretty healthy normal lifestyle. It is 100% thanks to Pixie!
How has Pixie become a part of your daily social life? Are there any challenges with this?
Liz: Everyone in my life absolutely adores Pixie. Pixie is cute, she is a happy dog. My partner loves her, my roommate comes home and says “I need my Pixie time!” Pixie will just cuddle with her.
There have been some issues with public access. Socially, really the only thing that is hard is explaining that there are limitations with having a service dog. But mostly Pixie is just with me.
There have been some issues with friends and those from my prior life. No one is necessarily unsupportive. It is just that some people didn’t understand how sick I was and didn’t see it. So I have to explain to people the purpose of a service dog and to not get it confused with the emotional support dogs. I need Pixie to help me live.
Tiffeani: Unlike a lot of people who go through medical treatment, because Liz is a military kid, she wasn’t able to have visitors. The lack of access of civilians and this caused the issue that there were those who literally couldn’t see her and it turned out that people didn’t really know how sick she was.
Liz: Yes, one big challenge is the amount of people that don’t understand invisible disabilities. No, I don’t fall into the three categories people think of, no, I’m not deaf, blind or wheelchair bound. There is more to it than that, I have a limited quality of life and a limited capability. I have an invisible disability.
I am disabled and this isn’t going away. It was the hardest part getting people in my life to understand. “No, I am disabled and I need this dog in my life.”
There is a comment that I get all the time that drives me crazy.
People say, ”oh, my gosh, I wish I could take my pet to work with me, too!”
But, I’m like, it is so much more than that, she is an extension of my being and is my medical equipment. She keeps me alive, she is beyond my understanding. It is hard to get people to understand this until they see Pixie working. There is always a moment that happens when people see it in action and then they get it.
You are celebrating the one year anniversary of your match with Pixie! Are there any further observations you would like to offer about your work with Pixie and the completion of your service dog training program with Rachel?
Liz: We finished our 6 month contract in November. One thing I think is that I need to urge more people to be open to getting a service dog. It is a hard change and I was in over my head when we started—Rachel was a huge support with this. I did not understand the emotional exhaustion I would feel because of all the constant questions people ask.
Like, I have to explain to my friends, if we go out with Pixie we will get stopped at least three times and probably one of them will be very rude. It is an adjustment for sure but a billion times worth it because Pixie gave me my life back.
Service dogs are not cute accessories, they are not for fun, they are a necessity. If you have a disability and are able to care for the dog in the way they deserve, and are able to understand that this is a partnership, it is so worth it. I can not be more grateful for the gift that Pixie has given me.
Like I said before, I have what you would call an invisible disability. I don’t look or act disabled and it can be difficult to explain this to people, they don’t get it! It doesn’t always fit the picture of the sad sick kid that people imagine. I need to work so hard to explain to people that she is a service dog and essential. There is a lack of education, people don’t know what the ADA is. Like, I go to a lot of restaurants and people don’t understand.
Rachel teaches such strong advocacy skills and how to help us just power through it. She helped me know my rights.
Tiffeani: One thing we observed is that there is now a bit of a backlash against our taking Pixie places because for a while people were abusing the emotional support dog concept—because they wanted to bring their dog with them… But that is different…
Liz: Pixie is a service dog and it can be very hard for people to understand that you may want your dog to be with you for emotional reasons but Pixie is my well being.
This puts valid service dogs in unsafe situations. We can’t go to dog parks or other activities with her because if she is injured because you are placing your non-trained dog in close proximity to my service dog, my safety is at risk. Acting like your pet dog is a service or emotional support dog damages the respect people have for an ADA and those who need service dogs.
Rachel did a wonderful job explaining to me how to advocate for these things and how to help people understand these differences and possible consequences.
Tiffeani, are there any new behaviors you have witnessed over the past few months of this wonderful team relationship between Liz & Pixie? Are there any words of wisdom you can provide other parents seeking a service dog for their child?
Tiffeani: I’ve seen some new behaviors such as Liz and Pixie deepening their relationship and I’m witnessing this expansion. Liz has transitioned from a minor to a young adult and is learning how to navigate her life on her own with Pixie. That is really the only way that we could have done this and the only way I would have felt comfortable.
Pixie continues to learn things constantly. She is just so crazy smart and picks up things left and right. On a daily basis Pixie picks up a slight nuance that is incredible. Like for Liz, Pixie is a seizure alert dog and she can pick up signals from Liz before she has an episode and that is amazing. Liz has also learned to come into her own now that she has Pixie.
My words of wisdom are to carefully research who you train with and contract with. Be very, very careful. There are a lot of less scrupulous service dog trainers and you really need to know what to look for. Because this is a significant financial investment, make sure you look into what makes someone a service dog trainer and what they need to do for you.
Research how much a service dog can benefit your life. It really took me a while to wrap my head around how much of an impact Pixie could have on Liz’s life. Now, Pixie has exceeded my expectations.
If you look at it, Liz has been able to come off at least 3 expensive medications because of Pixie’s assistance. Pixie has been alert to alert Liz to be more proactive with her health, she alerts her before she has issues.
Pixie has therefore LITERALLY paid for herself. Even with our incredible insurance, these medications were very expensive.
Look into how incredible the right partnership can be and the difference it can make is amazing and how much it can make your quality of life so much better! It can make an immense difference. Talk to others who have been through the process. I can’t imagine what Liz’s life would be like without Pixie!
Liz was getting to the point where she was going to need home health care aides—but now Pixie has helped Liz get healthy and this is no longer the case. Liz couldn’t have lived on her own without Pixie. She is the reason Liz is healthy and has a good quality of life.
Liz: Younger people with invisible disabilities need to be confident enough to help themselves. Don’t discount your need for a service dog. You don’t have to constantly justify your disability. Getting a service dog can change your life.
Tiffeani: Rachel is a wonderful advocate and we keep a great relationship. Her latest super puppy zoom classes can really help people understand how puppies need to be trained with neuroplasticity. This is why Pixie is so amazing — she was literally trained from birth. Rachel has this training formula down really well. I would trust Rachel’s judgement on all these things.
Helping us understand dog training and behavior truly is her super power!
THIS VIDEO, TEAM LIZ & PIXIE, WAS PRODUCED IN AUGUST 2021 © ABETTERPETLLC 2021