February 28, 2014

House hunting in London

Last week I woke up and it hit me. In four months will reach the two years mark of living in London. It's a silly thing, but I can't believe it's been almost two years. They have not gone as planned at all. London was supposed to be my oasis, my peace and quiet and no more worries zone. It was supposed to give me back the peace of mind and ability to sleep a full night. It was supposed to be, in my head, a smooth ride. Instead it gave us two years full of bumps along a magnificent road.
So I didn't notice the time passing, because I was too busy looking at it through appointments and tests and forms to fill. The only way I track the months is through my friend Michelle's beautiful little girl - every month she puts a photo on Facebook, and every month I "like" it and say out loud to myself "but she can't be 11 months old! She was just born, like, yesterday!" I stopped saying that to Michelle though. For some reason she doesn't find it amusing...
Time is a funny thing, and as we are fast approaching the birthday season around here, it never even occurred to me to connect it to the passage of time in London.
And then another frightening thought hit me - our contract for renting this flat is up. Now you might think that it's frightening because we really want to stay here and the landlord won't renew our contract, or he might up the rent a few tens of pounds a week. But that's not it at all we can stay, and the rent around here stayed about the same this last couple of years so no upping it. No, the real reason it's frightening is because it suddenly dawned on me that we can move.
Just an example for a house and a street around here
Why would we want to move? Mostly because it's been two years, so somehow it feels mandatory. We've never lived anywhere more than two and a half years. In 13 years we moved 6 homes, 4 cities, 3 countries. I just can't think about this flat being the one that breaks our tradition. Then there is the fact that it's practically a shoebox, and not an adult-zise high-heel knee-high-boots shoe box. No, we live in a child-sized shoebox. And it's getting a tad crowded, but then again, maybe only when the kids are around. And thirdly, because moving solves everything. I mean, what do you do when your head becomes over populated with worries and questions and what-if's? You move. If the over population isn't too bad, you move a house, or a city, or in London's case a borough. If the questions become too much, you move a country (or at least that is what I tell Hidai whenever the question of Ron's secondary school pops up).
The problem with it is, that once the the thought of moving starts creeping in, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Now we have to move because everything about this place annoys us.
So last week we decided to check the area, you know just to see what's out there before we actually start looking.
Look! THere's a rainbow! It must be a sign that it's time to move ;)
And here arose a few tiny insignificant problems. First of all, I have no idea how not to move immediately. Our average time of finding a place and moving is between 2 days and 2 weeks. I always find a place I want to move to, and then it annoys me to no end if I can't. But Hidai said we have to get to know the area better and be much more calculated and reasonable this time around. I on the other hand found three places I was willing to sign with on my first hour of looking.
But we are being calculated and all that, so we sat down to make a list of demands. It turned out we want to live in our flat, if only it included the flat above, just so we'll have somewhere to hide from the kids. We narrowed it down to the most basic two demands - obviously the kids can't change school, and we can't move too far away from Arsenal or Ron will hate us forever. But that's ok, we thought very naively, because we are on the border of three boroughs, two of which have a very good selection of homes in lower prices than what we pay today. Success. But not for us, because we have to stay in our borough. Yon is in the middle of all the evaluation / assessment / registration process and if we move we lose everything and have to start all over. And the worst part is we lose our special advisor, right before he starts year 1. That is a big fat no.
So after a very nice weekend of Zooplaing around the boroughs and selecting a few homes to see and fantasising about all the money we'll save, and the incredibly spacious house we'll have, we found ourselves right back where we were two years ago when we  had one week to find this house - with no choice of properties. Our borough is not an easy one to find a decent house for a decent price in. In fact it thrives on very old houses and very high prices. Mostly because it populates too many "young professionals" who think putting the main loo on the roof is quirky rather than just plain idiotic, its advantages - central, close to the tube, trendy, diverse and close to Arsenal - are also what makes it so hard to find a decent place that fits a family of four.
Our view in Gibraltar
Our view now
Then you have the problem of not actually wanting a house. I have to confess, I am what you might call totally paranoid, and Hidai is what you might call a neat-freak. And we got used to having a magnificent view when you look out the window. Somehow living in an old crumbling house (not because that is how houses in general are, but because that is how most houses that are for rent in our area are), that looks exactly like every other house on the street, that never feels clean, always faces the street, and has no view other than cars, just doesn't seem appealing. But on the other hand, it has a garden and much more space. And also it might have a loo on the roof, which is a feature after all.
Truth is, we love our flat. We love everything about where we live, right from the "legendary address" to the newness of the complex, to the underfloor heating and double glazing, and the view. It's just that it's small. And our downstairs neighbour is against kids and treadmills. And it's been almost two years.
And I am starting to feel those itching feet, that need for newness, the thirst for adventure. I can feel it bubbling just underneath the surface, and I know - hold on to your suitcases boys and girls. We are moving.
Well, not really, we have about four months here, and still no idea what to do with our list of house-demands. Then again, my Zoopla, Right Move and Prime Locations accounts are all set to "immediate alerts" so...

I hope you enjoyed reading the post :) I would really appreciate two minutes of your time and a vote for Best Writer (and best blog if you are so inclined) at the MAD blog awards -
Just press the photo and copy in my URL - http://londondegani.blogspot.co.uk
Thank you very much!

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February 25, 2014

DLA - filling the disability forms

You might have noticed I wasn't here this past week. There were no new posts, no tweets, no Facebooking, no me anywhere around the web. You might think it was because it was half-term and I was busy doing all these wonderful educational but still fun activities with the boys, and really who am I to burst my image as one of those mums who uses every opportunity to have out door fun with their kids? An image I apparently have, judging by the fact that I was nominated as best family travel, innovative and crafty blogs. Me. But the sad truth is we left the house once this whole half-term and even that was so we could go to Yon's Outreach program half-term coffee morning and meet his advisor. Hidai and Ron left the house a second time to see the unveiling of Dennis Bergkamp statue at the Emirates and the match.
No, my week started with two sick kids, continued with benefits and disabilities, and ended with depression and anxieties. So I wasn't here. in fact I wasn't anywhere, I unplugged all electronic devices (except for playing endless rounds of Candy Crush and Pepper Panic), cancelled all calls or meeting people, and pretended like I can just hide under the covers for a week. Disappearing is my coping mechanism, it is what I do every time I feel the abyss closing in on me. It all started on Monday when both boys felt rather poorly and I decided to fill Yon's DLA forms. DLA is a disability benefit and choosing last Monday, the day of the Benefits Street big debate, to fill the forms might not have been such a good idea. Mine is not a political blog or one that thrives on controversy, and so I have not written my opinion on the war on benefits before, but I do have to say this, it feels awful. Filling this form was (still is as it's not yet finished) one of the hardest hurdles to go through. The form is divided into 3 parts - the details part, mobility part and care part. I started crying in the details part with the doctors and tests and diagnosis. The mobility part was all about how he needs help moving around because, you know, he doesn't see the around. But the care part, that one broke me. The point is to show how much assistance Yon needs during the day. You would think, like me, not much. He wakes up - goes to school - comes back - plays a little - goes to bed. Right? Not really as it seems. Because you start reading the questions - problems with moving around the house? yes; problems with food? yes; problems with noise? yes; problems with bath/toilet? yes; problems with clothes? yes; problem with speech? yes; problems with communicating? yes; needs supervision to make sure he is safe? yes; needs help with development? yes; needing extra help at school? yes; and of course, problems with vision? yes.
The only questions we answered with a "no" were to do with medicine.
Then you have to write, and explain why you answered yes to almost every question in the form, and then add all the documentation from the school, hospital, advisors, council, whatever you have.
Then we took it to our outreach advisor to go over it with us and see that we filled it correctly and wrote everything, and because you have to add a letter from someone who knows and treats the child. Because his parents aren't enough.
To get something between 20 and 40 pounds a week. Who in their right mind thinks that anyone will go through this if they don't really need it?
I get the point of view of the system, I get the need to put all kids on the same level and judge them on the same scale, I get the need to not make it easy for people to trick the system. But I think the truth is it deters the people who needs it and not the people who are heartless enough to claim disability benefits they are not entitled to. Filling forms like this one, or like the Arsenal one is having to beg for help, having to relive the worse parts of your days, having to shout out to whomever will listen "but he is! he really is disabled!". It is hard only when you have a disabled child.
The people at Arsenal Disability Team for example did not think Yon is disabled enough or that we are worthy enough to buy 4 tickets in the front row so Yon could actually see what is going on and not have to sit  in a crowded middle row next to the giant speakers. They sent me to look for teams that aren't doing so well, or wait to next year because they prefer to sell their tickets to real fans. But hey, they have a seeing-eye toilets around the stadium somewhere. Aren't you proud of them?
We eventually got the tickets, because we asked for help from people with more connections than us in the Arsenal headquarters, and we will be going to one of the matches in April. But it is still unthinkable to me that we will have to feel so bad and jump through so many hoops. It kills me that we have to get special treatment, that we have to beg for favours, that once and again we have to prove that Yon really doesn't see. It kills me that we are made to feel like beggars and thieves, like we have to stand and justify once and again Yon's needs and his entitlement to be able to live a full life. In a perfect world, society should help the weak, the Special, the defenceless. It should support and accept the different.
But it doesn't. It makes you fill forms that reduce your child to a burden and you to tears.

I hope you enjoyed reading the post :) I would really appreciate two minutes of your time and a vote for Best Writer (and best blog if you are so inclined) at the MAD blog awards -
Just press the photo and copy in my URL - http://londondegani.blogspot.co.uk
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February 14, 2014

Slippery slope time

I am sure Friday has not been the same this last two weeks without my constant whining about Weight-Watchers and dieting. I know, I told myself the same thing, it's not really Friday without some  chocolate reminiscing. Unfortunately I had been extremely ill for those two Fridays I missed, but there really is no need to feel sorry for me, because other than the fact that I managed to watch each and every TV episode I have ever recorded or downloaded or queued or whatever, I have managed to watch two whole shows I have never watched before (every episode from the first to the last series), I have also managed to bore myself out of my mind and so did the unthinkable - I knitted. I know, everyone around here also found it hilarious, but I did. It's not the first time I tried knitting, but a rare combination of two left hands, no eye-hand co-ordination whatsoever and a distinct lack of artsy genes have resulted in a not bad collection of needles and yarn but not even one real finished product. This time around however I was really determined, and also starting to feel like I am loosing my mind due to TV overload, and I knitted one heart (not because of Valentines, because it's easy), one fish (because Yon felt it doesn't count unless there's an animal there), and one whole hat, and another half a hat but I vowed to finish that one too. Just as soon as I become sick again.
Heart & fish
But the main thing about my being sick is that you know how when you feel bad you lose your appetite and all that? Well, I don't get that. For me, sick means carbs. Lots and lots of carbs. Way more than usual amounts of carbs. And chocolate. Obviously. It is a known fact after all that chocolate is nature's way of combatting the flu. Only losers think it's chicken soup. But if you have to have soup throw in some (meaning lots) croutons and grated cheese. Also, when I'm sick I need my tea to have three teaspoons of sugar and one of honey. It's mandatory (and not the way I usually drink my tea). You would think the next line will be on how much weight I gain throughout this illness food-fest, but no, I always lose weight when I am ill, no matter how much I eat. The problem is I usually gain it all back in the first three days of feeling better.
My new hand-made hat!
This time around I continued to feel bad even after the week of antibiotics and was on enough medications to make sure I started seeing flying elephants instead of flying cakes, that I didn't gain back any weight, but I did lose all my Weight-Watchers mojo. It is surprising how easily you give up on everything you gained just to go back to those same bad habits you worked so hard to vanquish. I need to lose another 4 kilos. It's not much, but unfortunately it doesn't lose itself. And more than that, I need to get back into the hated exercise regime we've just managed to establish around here before I conveniently became ill.
I don't know about anyone else, but I always find the fact that I have to change the way I live in order to live according to someone else's rules and method a tad difficult (look at me with my restraint writing) so while Hidai tries to convince me that if you add the exercise points and the weekly points to the daily maintenance points you actually get enough points to live a decent life, I tend to think that if you need to worry all the time about every piece of cake that goes in your mouth life really isn't all that decent. I tend to look at it as somewhat of a slope kind of thing, sure you start off with the best intentions and promise you will forever keep writing in your app every little piece of chocolate and never over indulge again and that of course no one needs that second piece of pie, you slowly start slipping and after a while the only thing you do is keep paying the Weight Watchers monthly fee on account of the fact that stopping the payment is like admitting defeat. But I was supposed to be on the honeymoon period of the diet, after the horrible start and before the slippery slope. And I am not. I am somewhere around mid-slope. I find myself saying too many times a day - life is too hard to not eat cake.
Take yesterday for example. We got two parcel slips. Why would parcel slips cause an actual slip you ask. One was indeed the very nice chocolate I ordered for Valentines Day. The other was Yon's DLA forms. If you are still not sure what it is, DLA is a very harmless name for Disability Living Allowance. And form is a very harmless name for the 40 something pages in which I am supposed to detail everything Yon can't do. What does it say about me that I was more relieved to see the forms than the chocolate? Nothing good I guess.
Chocolate and wine all ready for Valentines
The moral of the story? That I got chocolate for Valentine's Day. I even added a note. And a bottle of wine. The problem of the story? That the boys went with me to pick the parcels up and informed me that they see themselves as equal chocolate deserving partners. When I gave up trying to explain it's mummy's chocolate and tried to at least get kisses in exchange for chocolate, Yon informed me that he will not give me any kisses, as I should share with them because apparently "sharing is caring".
Yes, but not with my really expensive and super fancy Hotel Chocolate box.

I hope you enjoyed reading the post :) I would really appreciate two minutes of your time and a vote for Best Writer (and best blog if you are so inclined) at the MAD blog awards -
Just press the photo and copy in my URL - http://londondegani.blogspot.co.uk
Thank you very much!

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I am linking this post with #WobblesWednesday over at the fab AutismMumma
And with #PoCoLo over at the lovely Vevivos.
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February 11, 2014

How to explain disability to kids?

How do you talk about a disability? When is the right time to start explaining to your child that he has a disability? When is the right time to start explaining to your other child that his brother has a disability? What do kids understand when you try to explain away a disability? And how can you make sure they don't end up defining themselves through that explanation? I think these questions haunt every parent who has a Special child. Some day my child will come to me and ask me - why? Or worse, he will hear something from someone else and then will come to me and blame me for not telling him sooner, for not making sure he is ready.
I am not different here, why would I be? It is one of my biggest fears having Yon hear something about his Ocular Albinism from someone else. Having him subjected to the "albino" or "blind" or worse name calling, having him think he is less. And on the other hand the possibility that it will happen is so slim. He doesn't look albino, or blind. Just sometimes weird and funny. So why would I rush it? Am I not running the risk of doing more harm than good if I rush to explain to him things he isn't ready for and he doesn't understand?
For his part, Yon never asked us why he needs glasses. He has his glasses since he was about 10 months old, and always loved them. They are a part of him as any other body part, and never stopped him doing anything he wanted, so he never really questioned their presence. Lately they have even become his "special feature" - Ron has freckles (or spots, in Yon speak), I have glasses - which have made them even more desirable. We tried to ask him why he needs his glasses, and his answer was short and to the point - because I love them.
He seems happy enough with that explanation, and in fact refused to accept any other explanation for a long while. So are we wrong to leave it like this? We did try to explain to him that he needs them because he sees less well than Ron, and so the sun won't hurt his eyes. As a reply he told us that the sun warms his toes and he needs to take his socks off. Classic Yon for "I am not going to discuss this with you so all you will get are random sentences that will annoy the hell out of you".
We took him to meet other children with Albinism at our Outreach program, and he really was very happy there, but other than "he has glasses like me!" he didn't see any resemblance between him and the other kids, nor did he care why he is going there, or who they are. He just enjoyed playing games and running around.
But then there is Ron, and here is where the story becomes much more complicated. Because Ron needs the answers. He hears us talking, he goes with us to the Outreach program gatherings, he comes with us to hospital, he has the need to know everything anyway.
And so we explain some of it every time, but it is so hard for him to really understand, and we try to keep it on the "not really serious" side of things because he also has a tendency to worry too much and whenever Yon hears his name in the conversation he has to start talking, mostly about unrelated things, so it makes having a serious conversation a tad harder.
Then we sat down to eat and Ron heard us talking about wanting to take Yon to watch a football match and needing to find tickets in the first row, and our letter to the disability team at Arsenal to get that, and he started asking us questions about Yon's eyes, and what disability is, and he was really intent about it and about the fact that Yon won't get any better. He is studying about the body and so he wanted to understand the mechanics behind Yon's condition and its name and he found it really baffling. I understand why it is weird to comprehend the fact that Yon really doesn't see well because he isn't accident prone and he doesn't let you feel that he has a problem or difficulty. And why it is tough to understand how his glasses don't really help him, or what 40% vision means.
So we told him he really doesn't need to worry about all this, and that it is fine to not really understand everything, and he looked at us and said "I want to understand more about Yon's eyes because I want to be able to help him".
And melted our hearts.

I hope you enjoyed reading the post :) I would really appreciate two minutes of your time and a vote for Best Writer (and best blog if you are so inclined) at the MAD blog awards -
Just press the photo and copy in my URL - http://londondegani.blogspot.co.uk
Thank you very much!

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February 6, 2014

The Great British Budget Challenge

I am, as usual, a bit late to the party but this time I have a very good excuse. I have been terribly sick for about two weeks and spent my time in bed and with no internet connection. I am still on my way to feeling human again, but I really wanted to tell you about something so I am taking time off from being sick to tell you about this project I am happy, though a bit surprised, to be a part of.
YourWealth.co.uk have launched a campaign to help Britain stay on a budget in February. Now, I know what you are probably thinking, because I thought the same thing - February is a short month so if you must find a month to pledge some life-changing thing in February is your best bet. All the people who choose January just set themselves up for failure with its 31 long days and depressing weather. February is your best bet, after all it's almost the end of winter, it's short and you have Valentine's Day in the middle as the best excuse for breaking your pledge without feeling guilty about it. We really wanted to stay off chocolate and booze but, you know, it's Valentines.
Which obviously leads everyone here to understand the massive amazement at choosing me to be a part of a budgeting campaign. Truth is I am not a budget person, I don't enjoy finding ways to save money, I don't live a thrifty lifestyle, I avoid talking or thinking or dealing with money as much as possible. Also really enhances the irony of the fact that I have a degree in Economics. For years we lived on what you might call a loose budget, that never really held together. We were young, we were naive (you can call it stupid), we looked ahead and all we saw was a huge amount of years were things will sort themselves out.
In our defence we didn't really had much choice, because after all we did need to eat sometimes, and life in Israel did not allow you to both eat and pay rent. We were never really extravagant or lived beyond our means you know with fancy holidays or designer clothes. It was just that we were a young couple with a child, I was studying in uni and we were both working (Hidai full time and I part time) and we still couldn't quite make it to be enough.
And then comes the question - is that really it? Are we supposed to live in semi-poverty for the rest of our life? In Israel if you say you want more, no, that you deserve more than being able to buy food and pay the rent at the same month, people look at you and sneer. You don't deserve more. Life is not for having fun, life is not so you can actually see your children grow up, life is not for you to enjoy. Life is to win the contest of who suffers more.
You see, we never lived like that, and though I was never really sorry for the things we spent our money on, we did get into debt.
To be honest, when we were young the debt didn't bother me much. Neither did living on the edge of our financial rope. But the years do go by, and faster than you imagine when you are in your twenties.
And today, after seeing how far and how fast things can fall, and after being on the verge of loosing everything, the problem is that once it happens to you, you can never again say "it won't happen to me" or "it will all be ok". And I no longer look at the money we owe in the same way. I no longer sleep well at night knowing we have debt.
I am still not a budget lover, I don't think I will ever be. But for the past year and a half we have been living on a budget, and have started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We are in our mid-thirties now, it is the time to start thinking ahead about pension, about university tuitions, about where we want to go and what we want to be able to give our kids when they grow up. It is our time to start planning ahead and to make sure we will not be in a position where we can fall.
Life, and I say it a lot lately, takes you through a journey you can't foresee. It leads you down paths you never imagined, and it throws things at you you really didn't think it will.
Budgeting is a horrible word, just like dieting. It reeks of no's, of poverty, of abstinence.
It is also the only way to sleep peacefully at night.

If you want to be a part of the Great British Budget, and I really recommend you do (and no, they really don't pay me to say that), just press this link and join. They have a budgeting tool, tips and advice, and prizes to be won throughout the month of February.
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February 3, 2014

The Other Breeds of Guide Dog: Assistance and Companion Dogs

Guide dogs are a subject very close to my heart, first of all because when I was young we had a beautiful labrador who didn't quite make the cut for being a guide dog, but was the gentlest soul I had ever known. He was the kindest, nicest, most loving being on earth, and was so much more than "just a dog" for me. For the first time I understood the what these dogs can give people, and it is so much more than just eyes. He died more than fourteen years ago from cancer and left us all heartbroken. Lately he has been on my mind, because of Yon. I am known to worry mire than I should, and also well in advance, but I look at Yon and I have no idea how to teach him to cross the road safely, how will he be able to walk alone at night, or in places he doesn't know well, or go on the right bus... All these questions have been haunting me for quite some time, and lat month we had a conversation with Yon's advisor and she said he might need some visual aids for these things. She meant a cane. Or a dog. To be honest, I hope he doesn't. But he might, and between those two options I thought I prefer a cane. It's easy, it's portable, It's foldable. It's so much less conspicuous.
The thing is, a dog is so much more than a cane, and the help it gives you does not end when you get home safely. I have no idea how it feels having to depend on someone or something else in this way, I  really hope Yon won't need to learn how to either.
But after that conversation I did some checking on guide dogs, and when Bolt Burdon Kemp contacted me and offered to write a guest post to explain about all the good guide dogs can do and the wonderful ways in which they can help, of course I said yes.

Guide dogs aren’t the only type of man’s best friend that can provide aid, support and relief to those who need a helping hand. Increasingly, specially-trained dogs are being used in cases beyond visual impairment, to work with people whose conditions may not even have overt physical symptoms. Instead, people who have suffered from traumatic brain injury, epilepsy or seizure victims, as well as those who need assistance with mobility, can also reap the benefits of having an assistance or companion dog at their side.For those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, the side-effects can be extremely wide-ranging, and as such they may need both physical and emotional support. In these cases, assistant dogs are ideal, as they can be trained to not only perform routine tasks and assist with practical chores, but can also provide a level of emotional help as well as potentially, in the case of those at risk of seizures, alert their owners of an impending episode.
Traumatic brain injuries could result in the victim becoming wheelchair-bound due to reduced motor function. This in turn would require them to receive the same assistance as someone seeking a mobility assistance dog, and the dog's help could revolutionise their life. The dogs are rigorously trained to give practical help for the everyday lives of someone who is not as able to move around. For example, they may assist in small actions that we may take for granted - opening or closing doors, picking up dropped items and turning lights on and off. However, they can also help with more complex tasks such as dressing and undressing, and even loading and unloading the washing machine – making them invaluable for the tasks necessary to live an independent life. Physically instructing the dog with small movements can also help to develop coordination and muscle functions in a gentle way.A traumatic brain injury could also result in the victim being prone to fits, or epileptic seizures. Fortunately, some assistance dogs are also trained to support those with this condition, either as a result of a TBI or otherwise. It has been said that these dogs can alert their owner of an impending fit at least 10 minutes prior to it occurring, and can assist them in finding somewhere safe before it occurs. There are also dogs that are being trained specifically to alert diabetic people about the same issue. Finally, many people who have experienced a TBI will be left with emotional issues. An extreme head or brain injury can leave the victim feeling isolated and lonely, perhaps because they are self-conscious of the after-effects they may be experiencing (which may include speech difficulties, memory problems or a lack of concentration.) In these cases, a companion dog can make a world of difference by providing them with a loyal companion to help them overcome their loneliness.Having this company can also improve confidence and communication skills, as it provides an ice-breaker for conversations as well as the need to communicate with the dog to instruct and guide it, which all helps with developing speech. The presence of the dog can also be extremely calming for someone who may feel anxious or stressed during their recovery, and having them there can help to ease these feelings. Therefore, the after-effects or symptoms of disabilities, brain injuries or epilepsy diagnosis can be eased or improved as a result of the presence of these dedicated animals. Those who need support due to serious illness or injury, which can range from help with day to day activities or companionship and distraction from their condition, can benefit from an assistance or companion dog in a variety of ways.

Life isn't always what we expect. Sometimes it goes in ways we can't predict, and some times we find ourselves in places and roads we never thought existed. I know that for me, this road we walk on with Yon is one of those unexpected-never dreamed of roads. And one of the hardest lessons for me was to ask for help. Sometimes this help is in human form. Some times it can be a dog.

This post was written in collaboration with Bolt Burdon Kemp.

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