My companion dog changed my life and then the unthinkable happened

This I article is the Experiences from Alex Lytwyn, who lives with cerebral palsy and is an ambassador for Manitoba Possible. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, see the FAQ.

Cerebral palsy turns small tasks into big challenges. For example, how do I get into a shop if I can’t get to the automatic door opener from my wheelchair?

This question used to overwhelm me.

On this particular day, a few customers passed me, but just as I gathered enough courage to ask for help, they were gone.

To complicate matters further, I was embarrassed and unsure. With a disability that binds me to a power chair, a speech impediment that sounds odd even to my ears at times, and hands that (I think) look like lobster claws, it’s not easy to speak up and ask for help.

Simple aspects of life, like waiting for the store doors to open, felt like I was just floating through the air and no one saw me. My disability put a protective shield over me. It was common to watch the world go by.

But not anymore. Four years ago I applied to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides to be a service guide dog.

If I dropped an item, Fanta was right there to pick it up.-Alex Lytwyn

The process of mating with a dog is extensive. A dog’s personality must perfectly match the needs of humans. Each dog’s special abilities can be customized to some extent. Trainers do their best to maximize the independence the dog can offer.

I was placed with a service dog named Fanta. With a wag of my tail, my life has been enriched from that moment.

Fanta spent four years as Lytwyn’s service dog before falling ill. (Submitted by Alex Lytwyn)

If I dropped an item, Fanta was there to pick it up and place it on my lap. She would pull up the coat sleeves and help me pull my arms out. I wasn’t stranded outside of any facility. Fanta would either open the door or bark for help to get someone’s attention.

That was amazing.

Because I have cerebral palsy, there have been many times when my soul has felt lonely. But then Fanta filled my soul with optimism, happiness and independence.

And then the unthinkable happened.

It’s hard to say that too often, but I experienced a living nightmare. My favorite fanta fell ill. Up until this point, Fanta had been bulletproof to me.

Despite countless visits to the vet, Fanta was getting sicker by the day. She became so weak that she could not get up. That didn’t stop them from trying to help me as best they could. When we got home from the vet she would get out of the van and then with all her energy wait for me to come down the ramp for the van and then walk beside me as we walked into the house together.

I rebuild myself with Fanta’s memory.-Alex Lytwyn

One day, as she lay next to me in her bed, she gave me that playful “I want to go for a walk” look. After the intense process of helping her get up, we slowly walked to the door and took a walk around the yard.

During this walk, Fanta and I couldn’t keep our eyes off each other. It felt like we were remembering all the happy and helpful times over the past four amazing years. Her energy level was extremely low, but she was still smiling and wagging her tail.

Later that night, Fanta became even weaker and went downhill even faster. She laid her head on my arm, gave me a kiss, and while we both looked into each other’s souls, Fanta breathed her last.

Since Fanta’s death, my life has been turned upside down and I am an emotional wreck. Slowly, I know that I will rebuild myself with Fanta’s memory.

In the meantime, Fanta, this message is for you: Your infinite love and care has opened the doors of my life and given me access to infinite possibilities. Thank you for helping me gain freedom. I will cherish and miss you forever. With love, father.

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