He started out like any other puppy.  I began to train him in the house, without a leash.  I got him used to the noise of the city.  I bought him lots and lots of toys.

But Flash was destined to be a working dog.  He would grow up to help me with Crohn’s disease, one of those disabilities called “invisible,” because you can’t see what’s wrong by casually looking at the person – or, in fact, by looking intensely at the person, the way her service dog does.

This confuses people, and with good reason. If someone looks perfectly healthy, why would they need a service dog?

Once, when I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at a beautiful black and white photograph, a very nicely dressed British lady first stared at me and Flash, then shouted, “IS THAT A HEARING DOG?”  I turned to face her and answered as politely as I could, given the fact that I had been transported by the photograph and wished, at the time, to remain transported for a while longer.  “If he were,” I told her, “I wouldn’t have heard your question.”

It’s normal to be curious.  It’s also normal for people to have a sense of privacy. 

But after many, many years of having strangers ask personal questions, I decided to answer all those questions asked and not yet asked about one person with an invisible disablity – me.  I know it won’t stop the questions, but it will make the answer shorter.  Now I hand people a little card with a book cover on it:

I know they won’t all go to www.Amazon.com to buy the book and find out why some people who look okay need a dog to help them get through life.  But it gets me back to what I’m doing a little faster.

Plus – and this is a big plus – it’s a really good read.  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what best-selling author Donald McCaig wrote about it the new issue of Bark Magazine:

“As a child, I was enthralled by Jack London, Eric Knight and Albert Payson Terhaune.  Somehow, magically, the stray mutts my family took in became like White, Fang, Lassie and Lad of Sunnybrook Farm.  Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? stands comparison with those classics.”

So, two stories, separate and wound together: Denise Wall’s story of raising puppy May to be a stockdog, like her mother, her grandmother and all her ancestors before her.  And my story of raising Sky, May’s littermate, to become a service dog and help me with pain.  May now works sheep on Denise’s North Carolina farm and Sky goes everywhere with me in busy, noisy New York City, both working dogs whose lives are described in this new book.

Flash, by the way, grew up to be an attentive, devoted service dog, quietly accompanying me wherever I went and helping me when help was what I needed.  And when he became old and I brought home Sky to follow in his footprints, he continued to work by helping her to learn the job he had mastered and had done so well.  Good dog, Flash.  We miss you still.