Adopting Mrs. Weasley and Becoming “Disabled”
When everyone was scrambling to get arrangements made for my some-what last minute move to Iowa a couple months ago, one challenge was finding a living space. A new factory opened up not too far away, and anywhere decent had a wait list. The apartment manager of the place I moved into was keen on helping my church, however, and bumped me to the top of the list. There was one little hiccup though: Mrs. Weasley.
The complex has a no-pets policy, and I have a nearly-13-year-old border collie mix named after the character in the Harry Potter series because they both are known for their cheerfulness and underestimated because of their ages. I hadn’t intended on adopting her three years ago when my mom and I went to see the dogs at the shelter. There were other dogs, younger dogs, pretty dogs, but all of them seemed to have something that meant they weren’t a right fit for me: aggressive with food, not good with children (though I have no kids, I want people to be able to visit me), or excessively hyper. Her shelter was clean and well-cared for, but at the end of the day, it was still a shelter, and she had been there for months because while everyone loved her spirit, no one wanted an old dog.
I spent time with her outside and in their meeting room. I took the paperwork and went home to think about it. A week later, I returned to the shelter, paid her adoption fee, and took her home.
I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want her. She’s always happy, was already trained and housebroken, never chewed anything up, and let my youngest nephew play on/with her without losing her patience. She’s got plenty of energy for walks and even now has no trouble with the stairs, and when she’s done, she’s happy to cuddle. She has a bit of cataracts now, but in all honesty, she sees as well as I do.
I couldn’t imagine having to give her up, but thankfully the property manager offered a solution: if she was classified as my companion dog, I would be able to have her live with me under the protection provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said it was just a matter of paperwork, and she was right – it took more paperwork to get the dog in the townhouse than it was for me! Papers from my doctor to verify my anxiety disorder and the mediating effect my dog has on the symptoms. Papers from the veterinarian verifying her health, vaccinations, temperament. Photos and pages describing her personality. It felt ethically gray to claim that she’s an ADA dog, but we did it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve come to two realizations: 1. I don’t feel disabled, though I recognize that my anxiety does present some barriers, and 2. Mrs. Weasley is likely the best thing I have in trying to live with anxiety. There are times when what I need in order to settle my brain is to be at home, and sometimes, she is why I don’t spend as much time working or out of the house. One of the manifestations of anxiety that I struggle with is hyper-vigilance, which basically means that I am over concerned with my surroundings and sometimes fearful, but it is lessened by knowing that she will let me know when someone is outside the house before I realize it. She listens to me and doesn’t interrupt. She makes me laugh when she dreams and her feet dance.
Years ago, I read Temple Grandin’s memoir, Thinking in Pictures, and in it, she explains that for people on the autism spectrum, physical contact can be too much to handle, in part because of the lack of control. I’m not on the autism spectrum and I am affectionate with people I know well, but since the trauma of 2013, I’ve had a harder time with hugs from casual acquaintances and (something that ministers get a lot of). It’s not that I don’t like people, but my anxiety makes me tense up. Sometimes I am even tense with people I know – with my own mother, even, despite not wanting to be. I can’t pick and choose when anxiety hits. It’s overwhelming and all I can think is “OhMyGoshHowLongIsThisGoingToLastBecauseIHaveToHaveMySpace!!”
My dog, strangely enough, helps with this, too: most of the time, she’s OK with being next to me on the couch, with some part of her resting against my leg, be it her head, her hip, whatever. Sometimes, she lays on my lap while I read or watch tv. The pressure that is helpful in relieving tension is there, like what happens when you hug someone, but there is not a loss of control. It forces me to stop and eventually, my brain quiets to a loud roar.
When my new neighbors moved in two weeks ago, I worried about their reaction to me having a dog. I worried that they would complain about her barking too much (which is not all that much), or that they weren’t allowed to bring their dog, so why could I? It turns out they’re really cool about her and didn’t ask any questions.
I don’t feel disabled, but in the last few weeks, when I’ve recognized over and over how much she helps me out, I can’t help but feel less guilty about filling out the paperwork to have her officially become my “companion dog.” She’s not an officially trained ADA dog, but she makes life much more possible for me. Even if she’s sometimes still a spazz: