Stories to Inspire: My Beautiful Life, with MS

By Tina Torizzo

Photo of the author with her service dog, Crane
The author with her service dog, Crane

I am, and always have been, one of those people who greet challenges with open arms. I actually don’t just greet them; I try and hunt them down before they even greet me. My motto has always been, “God will only give you what you can handle.” I have found out the hard way that this motto is way too true!

My story begins in May 2012. It was a beautiful spring day. I was running around with my kids, playing tag, climbing trees, rolling in the grass. Later that day, MS hit… like lightning out of a clear blue sky. I spent the next few months in and out of three different hospitals. I lost the ability to use my legs, arms, and hands. I could not write, feed myself, or even turn over in bed. I went through treatment after treatment with corticosteroids and then underwent plasmapheresis. Despite these treatments, I still lost vision in my right eye.

I remain on my disease-modifying therapy. For me, it’s the only thing that would stop this terrible progression of symptoms. However, some symptoms did not fully remit following this initial relapse. I was left with terrible balance, dizziness, fatigue (of course), and blindness in one eye. This blindness left me with no depth perception and therefore I have a difficult time seeing changes in terrain, such as steps, coming at me.

There was a day my husband dropped me off at a street-front store to do some shopping. Going in by myself was difficult enough, with the limited vision and balance, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed, which comes with new territory. So, I speedily headed out of the shop toward the car, not seeing the curb, and spilling out onto the busy street.

That is when I began my search for “something”…. something to help me continue my life and my independence as I once knew. My husband and I always wanted to help train a seeing eye dog. Although, maybe now it could be the other way around and a dog could help me!

I researched many, many organizations and to my surprise, I found that people actually train dogs for mobility and balance. I had NO idea! I finally found an organization with all the right credentials and heart. It was ECAD, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities. I began the application process and met with them for a one-on-one interview. That was the point I actually got to try walking with a dog. It was amazing. I realized that I had to make this happen. The most difficult part was raising the money. I collected donations, held fundraisers, saved… and then waited… a year and a half.

Photo of Tina walking with her service dog Crane

Crane was born on Christmas Day 2012. She was born into Service Dog Training. The dogs get attention and training upon birth and until the day they are placed with a client. ECAD refers to each client’s profile as they bring these dogs up and evaluate which dogs best have the skills to meet each client’s needs. Crane was a special dog because she had to be proficient at all of her “assist dog skills” and also be my eyes. She had to be able to concentrate while I dealt with my three kids and busy lifestyle. She had to be a dog that also welcomed challenge. Crane seemed to fit the bill!

Once ECAD thought they had a potential match, they called me in for Team Training. During Team Training, the client lives at the ECAD facility in Dobbs Ferry, New York, for two weeks and undergoes intensive training with the dogs. The goal is that by day four, you will be partnered with what will be “your” dog.

Crane claimed me the first day, the first second she saw me! She was mine. She has been taught things such as to open doors, turn on and off lights, help with the laundry, get my shoes, retrieve things off the ground, and more. She is able to brace and balance me with a harness on her vest and she guides as well. Stairs, ice, holes, hills, etc., she’s got me. In busy places, I attach my kids’ color-coded leashes onto her vest and I know they are safe, because Crane is in charge.

I might have MS. It probably will get worse. However, with Crane, I feel like I can still conquer the world. I am optimistic about my condition and even began a blog to help others going through something similar, at I go out alone, or with just my three kids, and to everyone else in the world, I am not disabled. I just look like a woman with a dog!