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My name is Peggy Alston and I live in Concord, NC in the United States.  I am 58 years old and was diagnosed with HSP SPG48 in 2013. At the time, I was having some issues with tripping and foot drag. I discussed the condition with my neurologist and researched everything I could get my hands on. My progression has been fairly slow but in 2017 I had to accept that not only were the foot drag and tripping getting worse, I was experiencing other issues. I tripped, fell, had difficulty getting up and down, lost my balance frequently and my legs were getting more spastic.

My progression has been fairly slow but in 2017 I had to accept that not only were the foot drag and tripping getting worse, I was experiencing other issues.

Peggy AlstonA Lady Living With HSP

I was having regular spasms and contraction cramps and my legs felt so heavy that I felt like I was dragging logs around. I became very self conscious about the way I walked and found that I had started to self isolate. It just felt easier to stay home than to deal with people looking at me and the way I walked. If my husband was with me, I would go out but if I was alone I rarely ventured anywhere other than the grocery store. I had stopped working back in 2012 but did have a small in home eBay resale business. I let go of that because in order to resell things, I had to have things to sell and I was no longer comfortable going out to thrifts, flea markets and yard sales on my own.

I was too self conscious and afraid that I would fall. My husband very gently suggested that if I start bringing a cane with me I may be more comfortable being out and about ( I say he “gently” suggested a cane because he knew what my response would be and it wasn’t going to be good). I refused and continued limiting my activities and just become more spastic and depressed.

I am an animal lover and have always had dogs. I decided that a Service Dog might be an option for me to consider. I did a lot of research and decided that a dog seemed like a good choice for me. Unfortunately, every organization I contacted had a very long wait list and was very expensive. Some of the dogs were upwards of $20,000.00! I was very discouraged but then I came across an organization that trained Great Danes as Mobility Service Dogs and the dogs were donated, there was no charge. I thought it was too good to be true but contacted them anyway. That was the first step in what has been an extraordinary experience with The Service Dog Project (SDP) in Ipswich, MA.

Everything happened very quickly for me once I contacted SDP. I was the exception, not the rule and after a trip to MA to meet with the trainers and to be evaluated as a candidate for a dog, I was notified 6 months later that SDP had a potential dog for me. I flew back to MA and was introduced to Kanga. She and I bonded very quickly and we spent the next 4 days working with the trainers and then I brought her home. Kanga is trained to provide balance and counterbalance for me. When I walk, she stays in step with me so if I trip or lose my balance, she is right there for me to hold on to. She knows how to “brace” for me so when I am getting up or sitting down I have something sturdy to hold on to. She also provides a brace for me to lean on if I have to stand for an extended period of time. If I do fall, she knows how to help me up.

Kanga and I just celebrated one year together as a team and she has become such an integral part of my life. Aside from her duties physically helping me, Kanga has had such a positive effect on me emotionally. She is 140 pounds of love and joy. She is my constant companion and she goes everywhere with me. Kanga has given me my confidence  and my independence back. I go wherever I want to go whenever I want to because she is with me. I never imagined what a difference a dog could make. Kanga loves her job and shows how happy and proud she is every time I put her vest on her. It’s crazy how much things can change in a year. I don’t care anymore if people stare because now they are staring at her. I don’t worry about going up and down stairs now because Kanga is right there with me for every step. I don’t fear going to places I have never been because my girl is right by my side and I don’t worry anymore about how I will be able to get up if I fall because I know all 140 pounds of Kanga will be there for me.

My husband was right when he worried what my reaction would be when he suggested a cane, but it’s not an issue now because I got a DANE!

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