Living with a chronic disease presents daily challenges. Whether it is learning
to navigate lifeâ€™s obstacles with a physical disability or simply coming to
terms emotionally with the harsh realities of an unremitting disease, itâ€™s
never easy. The best plan of action that I have found is to try to make peace
with your situation and put your best foot forward each and every day.
This monthâ€™s Jenâ€™s Jewels
discusses this very topic in her heartfelt new release, A DOG NAMED SLUGGER.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, she tackles everyday activities with the help of
an adorably smart guide dog aptly named Slugger. Through anecdotal tales of
encouragement, she offers keen insight into the life of a person struggling
with a debilitating chronic disease. Beautifully written from start to finish,
her story is a true testament of courage, love, and hope.
As part of this interview, Bell Bridge Books has generously donated five
copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, donâ€™t forget to look
for the trivia question. And as always, thanks for making Jenâ€™s Jewels a part of your
fall reading list.
Jen: The challenges that life presents often turn out to be blessings in
disguise. A DOG NAMED
SLUGGER is the story of your personal journey of self-discovery. So that my
readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please
share with us your educational and professional background.
After earning my Bachelors degree in psychology, I went on to obtain my Masters
and Educational Specialist degrees in Community Agency Counseling. I worked for
many years in the mental health/human services field. With my service dog
Slugger by my side, I assisted clients who dealt with a wide variety of
psychological and physical challenges.
Jen: During your time as a graduate student, your health became a major
factor affecting your educational goals. Eventually, you were faced with the
decision to explore other options in terms of coping with your disease. First
of all, please give us a brief description of cerebral palsy and how it affects
Leigh: Cerebral palsy is a broad term that actually encompasses a group
of posture and movement disorders. It is related to the brainâ€™s ability to
control the body, and there are several different classifications of CP
(spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic, or mixed). Therefore, one person with CP may deal
with very different symptoms compared to another person who has received the
same diagnosis. For me, CP means I cannot depend on my own body to do what I
want it to do. I have difficulties with my balance, my depth perception and
vision, my muscles, and my ability to move and function physically. Walking
requires a lot of concentration and energy (and a bit of good luck). Even with
all of these, I fall easily. I sometimes need to use my wheelchair. My CP also
makes my hands shake and I often drop things. In addition to these functional
challenges, I have to deal with a lot of physical pain.
Jen: The use of seeing-eye dogs by the blind is widely well-known;
however, companion dogs are not. Please describe for us how their roles
differ. And, which breeds work best for each?
Leigh: Like guide dogs, mobility service dogs are trained to assist
individuals who deal with disabilities. They can learn more than fifty
different tasks that increase the independence and quality of life for their
human partners. For example, service dogs are often trained to pick up dropped
items, carry small things in their mouths, open heavy doors, and retrieve
specific things (like the telephone) for their partners. All working dogs need
to be healthy, smart, calm, and eager to please. Various breeds and mixed breed
dogs can fill that important role; and I personally know lots of Golden
Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers who are service dogs.
Jen: How did the decision to apply for a companion dog affect your
perception of your disease? In your mind, how did you make peace with it?
Leigh: When I as a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me that
every part of life holds the promise of something good. As a child with CP, Iâ€™d
thought he was wrong; I could not find anything good about growing up with my
disability. But when I met Slugger, I realized something good had found me. My
life was shaped by my congenital disability and ultimately re-shaped by my
partnership with my service dog. It was Sluggerâ€™s unconditional love that
enabled me to gradually make peace with my CP. My service dog was the single
good thing to come out of my disability.
Jen: Briefly describe for us the application process required for
obtaining a service dog. What was the most challenging part and why? And, did
you select Slugger, or did he select you?
Leigh: The application process I experienced began with a phone call; I
called Caring Canine Companions of Virginia and talked to the folks who worked
there about my disability and how I hoped a service dog might help me. During
this first conversation, I also began to understand some of the assistance
tasks service dogs can perform. I was then sent a written application. Once
completed, my application was reviewed and approved by the organizationâ€™s
trainers and professionals. A thorough home visit followed. Once my home was
approved for a working dog, I settled in to wait until the folks at CCC
contacted me to let me know they had found a dog they believed might be
suitable for me, my environment, and my physical needs. For me, this wait
lasted nine months â€“and the waiting was the hardest part! Every partnership is
a matter of give and take, but in order for the whole service dog bond to work,
Slugger had to make it clear he was willing to work with me; that was our vital
first step toward becoming a successful working team.
Jen: In terms of Sluggerâ€™s training, how active were you in his overall
instruction? How long did it take? And, please share with us one of your
Leigh: Sluggerâ€™s training actually began years before I met him. It took
nearly two years for him to gain the skills and confidence he would need to
work by my side. After he had been trained for that time, he was matched with
me and our team training took several months. One of my favorite memories of
our training period was when, during our final team test, the instructor with
CCC told me that Slugger and I were so well matched that our gaits were
identical and our butts wiggled the same way when we walked together.
Jen: With Slugger by your side, your struggle with CP was no longer an
individual plight. Rather, it became a team effort. What were his particular
strengths? And, in what ways did his constant companionship impact your self-
Leigh: Slugger was incredibly loyal and steady, and obedient when we
worked together. My sweet Labrador also had a sense of humor that helped me
keep a balanced perspective about life. Slugger believed in me before I knew
how to believe in myself. His unconditional love and assistance gave me a sense
of confidence, completeness, and self-worth.
Jen: Your relationship with your future husband, Pranav, also came with
its challenges due to your culturally diverse backgrounds. How did your
willingness to embrace the diversity directly correlate to having grown up with
a chronic disease?
Leigh: My personal experiences growing up with my disability helped me
understand the importance of â€˜seeing beyond the surfaceâ€™ of individuals. This
may have helped me be more open-minded in developing relationships as I maturedâ€”
including my relationship with Pranav. I also think my CP forced me to adapt
and be creative in how I handled challenges. That creativity has served me well
in all my significant relationships.
Jen: In his later years, Slugger began to suffer from old age. How
difficult was it to accept his need to retire? And, how did having a second
service dog named Kenda help with the transition?
Leigh: If such things had been up to me, I would have seen to it that
Slugger stayed young forever. I didnâ€™t want him to get older; I did not want
him to retire. Yet when he reached the point where working could have
potentially been hard or painful for him due to his age, I absolutely knew it
was time for Slugger to retire. I was fortunate to have caring guidance from
our veterinarian. His input made it easier for me to do the right thing at the
Kendaâ€™s entrance into my life helped me feel a sense of continuity and security
once it was time for Slugger to retire. I liked knowing that my first service
dog and my second working partner would be a part of each otherâ€™s lives. My two
dogs also made it clear they liked sharing their journeys with each otherâ€”and
Jen: Throughout your life, you have experienced blatant acts of
discrimination. Is it simply due to ignorance? Or, do you believe our societyâ€™s
quest for perfection is to blame?
Leigh: Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of
1990 (www.ada.gov), I believe
that discrimination can arise out of either ignorance or choice. I feel that
the discrimination I have faced over the years has in fact been a combination
of both of these factors. Some people may not be familiar with service dogs.
Some people may be uncomfortable with other individuals whom they perceive as
being â€˜differentâ€™. Still, neither discomfort nor ignorance should excuse
Jen: Looking back, what was the most valuable life lesson you learned
Leigh: Slugger shared so much wisdom with me in the years that we had
together! He taught me that every partnership is a matter of give and take. He
taught me that white fur on a dark skirt makes a wonderful fashion statement.
And the most profound lesson Slugger shared with me was that even lifeâ€™s
biggest challenges can hold the promise of something good.
Jen: For those readers who want to know more about service dogs and the
programs available, can you recommend some organizations?
Leigh: Having been involved with Saint Francis Service Dogs in Virginia
for years, I would highly recommend the organization to those interested in
learning more about service dogs in the state (www.saintfrancisdogs.org). Assistance Dogs International
(www.AssistanceDogsInternational.org) also offers helpful
information about service dogs in addition to a listing of service dog
organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org)
can also provide valuable information about many different types of working
dogs and those who are partnered with them.
Jen: Letâ€™s switch gears now and talk about your website. Please take us
on a brief tour highlighting your favorite parts.
Leigh: My website, www.leighbrill.com, is pretty basic, yet it seems to suit
the fundamental style and message of my work. Iâ€™m especially happy with the
video that is featured on my welcome page. I love knowing that folks can watch
it and see a service dog in action (my girl, Kenda). Iâ€™ve also included
information about the book so that people can uncover details about the story,
my publisher, and where and how they can get A DOG NAMED SLUGGER! My
website features lots of links that relate to my story. I think itâ€™s a great
way to share resources as well as inspiration. Readers can get to know me a bit
more on my site, too, and contact me if they want to share their thoughts. Itâ€™s
exciting to be able to let everyone know what my dog and I are up to on our
news and reviews page. Iâ€™ll be updating that very soon...
Jen: Whatâ€™s next for you? Are you currently at work on another project?
And if so, what can you share with us?
Leigh: Lately I have been very focused on letting readers know about A Dog Named Slugger. I am
also hard at work on my next book; Miranda and Charlie and the
Great Cupcake Caper is the first in a series of fictional
juvenile stories featuring an energetic kid-detective and her service dog.
Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. Your
story is such an inspiration for all of us living with a chronic disease. I
wish you only the best.
Leigh: Iâ€™m honored by the opportunity, thank you Jen! Iâ€™m pleased and
humbled to know my book is making a positive difference. Sharing some of the
goodness that Slugger first shared with me is rewarding on many levels. Best
to you and wags from sweet Kenda!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Leigh. Truly, she is such an
inspiration to us all. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library
branch and pick up a copy of A DOG NAMED SLUGGER today.
Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of five readers
to answer to the following trivia question and youâ€™ll could win. Good luck!
the name of Leighâ€™s next book?
Next time, I will be bringing to you my interview with Cynthia Keller, author
of AN AMISH CHRISTMAS.
You wonâ€™t want to miss it.
Until next time...
8 comments posted.
About 20 years ago, I saw a TV show about the use of dogs in helping physically and otherwise challenged people with all kinds of conditions and was instantly enthralled and amazed by them. Those animals were trained by women in prison. I'm so glad that you have your loyal companions to help you out. One of my neighbors also such an illness, but she is still able to function without a companion. She rides a bike wherever she goes, even when there is snow on the ground. She makes it a point to get out every day, and goes to exercise regularly at the Y. I'd certainly love to read your book about Slugger. I've also observed dogs on the bus who've accompanied challenged individuals. I can somewhat relate to your problems because I've had repeated periods--even a year at university when I could no longer function in class--when I could no longer work. The response from others is very discouraging when I'm called lazy or pretending. I think for me it was very much a learning experience too, so that I would not judge others by what I can do when they can't do the same things. God bless you and yours.
(Sigrun Schulz 1:21am November 22, 2010)
Miranda and Charlie and the Great Cupcake Caper is the next book and it sounds good to. susan L.
(Susan Leech 8:19pm November 30, 2010)
I would love to win and read "A Dog Named Slugger. Her next book is "Miranda and Charlie and the Great Cupcake Caper."
(Reeta Harrison 8:38pm February 23, 2011)