Amber and Hannah's story written by Susanne Rimm
When Amber met Hannah the connection was instant. Living with many chronic conditions, including POTS and NCS, she certainly needs a good companion. Since she is unable to be upright without fainting she uses a wheel chair to get around but still – she can faint several times a day. Colorado, her 10 year old black Labrador Retriever, could sense her syncopal episodes before she did and would alert her and others by licking her hands and face. Unaware in the beginning of what he was doing Amber and her family failed to nurture the behavior and eventually Colorado stopped alerting. After learning more about Amber’s condition - and the ability of service dogs to aid in alerting - they recognized his ability and learned to encourage the natural instincts that are found in some dogs.
Colorado was getting older and showed this by slowing down, much to the concern of Amber and her family. That is why in 2015 the decision was made to add another dog to the family, hopefully one that would follow in Colorado’s footsteps. Amber contacted one of two large breed dog recues in her area, and even went to look online, but had a hard time finding the right match. In the end she received a phone call about a possible match – and that was Hannah. Amber feels that this was the answer to her prayers.
And so she met Hannah, a Great Dane. She was only 14 weeks old and had been taken to the shelter by her previous owner, whose circumstances had changed and was no longer able to accommodate such a large dog. But her size was not a problem for Amber and her family, since on the 5 acre property that houses 3 horses and several goats the dog would have lots of room to stretch her long, muscular legs. There are really no special breeds that are more suited to service duties – it is the dog’s disposition that qualifies it for the job. Great Danes are truly gentle giants, with a great ability for social connections and the need to give and receive love – to which her goat friends can attest. Originally bred to hunt boars in Germany they make wonderful pets and easily find their role within their “pack”. They also grow out of the puppy stage much faster than other large dogs, which makes training easier.
Using her intelligence and compassion she began quickly to pick up on the changes of Ambers heart rate and disposition, and naturally became attuned to Ambers needs. She also learned by mimicking Colorado’s behaviors - both alerting and general obedience. Although not very interested in getting
attention by licking ( Colorado’s way of communication ) she found her own way to be heard. When Amber becomes tachycardic or close to fainting the dog will act antsy, restless, distressed – she will pace around and show her concern. Amber used to have just a few seconds before she passed out – with Hannah’s alert she now has up to 3 minutes and can prepare others to avoid injuries.
Amber states that the biggest service of Hannah’s is that she now can take showers safely. She does this in a shower chair to which she is secured and needs the assistance of her twin sister. Before Hannah she fell over in her shower chair many times, therefore she switched to just sitting in the tub, but minor injuries continued to occur. After hitting her head and obtaining a concussion while showering, which culminated in the need for a pacemaker, it became obvious showers were not possible in this manner. But with Hannah at her side this is no longer an issue – the large dog leans in and keeps the chair from toppling over. Her height and long neck give her the ability to reach and alert in the shower, while still allowing Amber’s twin space to assist with the shower.
Hannah keeps Amber safe in many ways, not only by sensing her episodes. When Amber is home alone Hannah will make sure she does not get out-of-bed when symptomatic and stays by her side when out- of-bed.. If she is not within sight of Amber she comes immediately when called to check on her. She sleeps with Amber in her hospital bed to assure she is safe while sleeping. If Amber is not home and the dog is without her, she mopes and whines, refuses food and waits for her return. To Hannah, Amber is the most important Being in the world and without her she is incomplete.
But she has a lot of fun, too. Since Amber is not able to take her on walks Hannah frolicks around on the property, herding goats and annoying the horses. Once she got too close to the boss mare ( who is not as patient as her ) and after a mild kick she now keeps a respectful distance. This is obviously a sign of her superior intelligence and ability to learn fast!!!! She loves treats of chicken and hot dogs and she can enjoy a good scratch from anyone who is willing to give one. She needs to work and paces longingly around the house when she is bored, looking for something to do, even if it’s just annoying the smaller dog.
Today she is Ambers main support dog since – sadly – Colorado passed away 3 months ago. She has learned well and is classified as an owner trained cardiac alert dog, with full protection under the ADA ( Americans with Disabilities Act ) service dog laws. She can legally go anywhere Amber goes – whether this is shopping, doctor appointments or even public transportation. The one place Amber does not usually take her along is the hospital. Due to her many medical conditions she frequently is admitted to the hospital and Hannah has to stay behind. Not because she couldn’t be with her but because Amber is not able to provide for Hannah’s needs and would need another person there to take care of the dog. No doubt this is to the dogs dismay and often results in a chewed up pair of shoes.
The connection between Amber and Hannah is a beautiful thing, with both of them supporting each other. Their love for and understanding of each other are present in every moment they are together. Hannah is the perfect example of how a support dog can enrich the life of the owner and that – with basic understanding of training a dog – it is possible to raise up your own support dog, as long as the dog has the right disposition and there is a mutual respect.
When asked to describe her dog with one word Amber does not hesitate: Loyalty.