This post is a part of a special series we’re doing on how BarkBox has affected lives in surprising and meaningful ways. From our social media to our BarkHappy staff, people constantly share stories about their dogs that leave us laughing or crying from happiness… We want to share those special moments.
Authors Note: I started working at Bark & Co. as a customer service representative on BarkBox’s wagnificent Happy team. While there, I found out through Facebook that a high school classmate, Daniella Schirmer, would soon be getting a dog. Dani was such a special person in high school, and I wanted to send her a BarkBox to congratulate her on her new pup. On the Happy team, I heard lots and lots of amazing stories about dogs and their BarkBoxes, many of which were incredibly profound and brought me to tears. Little did I know that Dani’s BarkBox story was going to be one that I would never forget.
On February 8th, 2009, just a year after graduating college, Dani Schirmer’s life changed in an instant. She was at a restaurant when she slipped and fell. Her head hit against a wall, shattering her fifth cervical vertebra. Today, Dani is a quadriplegic. She cannot use her legs and has limited mobility in her arms and hands.
Dani applied to Canine Companions For Independence to qualify for a service dog. Canine Companions For Independence (CCI) is a non-profit organization that pairs individuals with trained assistance dogs. CCI trains four types of assistance dogs: service dogs, who help people who have trouble with mobility, hearing dogs, therapy dogs, and skilled companion dogs, who assist people with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities. There is no charge.
In April, Dani received a call that she was off the waiting list. The next step was a two week training camp. In the beginning of May, Dani and eleven other applicants arrived at the Oceanside, California training facility to meet their future canine companions. The majority of time at camp is for the humans to learn what the dogs are capable of, to master the commands, and to bond with their new dog. But first, they must be matched up.
One by one dogs were paired up with their new owners. Then Dani’s name was called. She had wanted a service dog for so long, and after three years on the waiting list and two days at camp, this was the big moment. “… Zandra.”
There was nothing wrong with Zandra, but out of all the dogs Dani had met at the facility, Zandra was the only dog she didn’t click with. After all, all the dogs are going through a major life upheaval as well. They are taken from their home and brought to a strange new facility with a bunch of strangers. According to Dani, Zandra, aka Z, was very attached to her “puppy raisers” and was a little timid with everyone else. “I know it sounds ridiculous,” Dani said, “and I don’t want to seem like I was ever ungrateful because she is amazing, all the dogs are, and part of that is because they are so sensitive, so the truth is there was tension at first.”
After Dani and Z completed the program they set off to start their new life together in California. “It’s a constant challenge, any little help, even 1 or 2% is huge.” Dani said. “I drop things… a lot.” Among other things, Z is there to pick stuff up off the ground, open and close doors, and perform tasks like getting Dani her mail.
One day, during her routine mail trip, Z noticed there was something delivered just for her…
Since then Dani has signed up for a BarkBox subscription and the only tension in Dani’s home has been between Z and Dani’s cat Jozie (and that one time Dani was tempted to keep one of Z’s BarkBox toys for herself.)
“Z is extremely observant,” Dani said, “She hears my power chair turn on and she jumps up, completely alert, waiting for direction.” One day, Z didn’t want to get into her van. This was extremely odd since it was a part of their training at camp, and had never been an issue before. Three days later Dani realized her tire pressure was a little low. Turns out Z only wants her mom driving on the tautest tires pawssible.
Even more impressive to Dani is Z’s incredible intuition and compassion. Since her accident, Dani will occasionally get uncontrollable spasms in her legs. The first time this happened, Z instinctively leaned in against Dani, putting her weight against Dani’s legs to reduce the shaking. “She was never trained that. That’s her.”
Today, Dani and Z are best buds. “Z is a working-bee and she is most satisfied when she’s doing her job (evident by her tail-wagging when she does any task). I love the way her eyes follow me and her attentiveness to my every movement that make me feel secure and ready to face the day to day obstacles I encounter. She is my partner in crime–we face challenges head on and have fun doing it.”
Dani and Z are a team, and like any great team, they’re constantly growing, and learning more about each other every day.
Dani still faces daily struggles, but with Z by her side she feels like she can get through anything. “I let myself try to do things. Even if I thought it was impossible, I try to do it anyways.”
Raise your hand if you’re ready for the Pixar movie…
Follow Dani and Z’s heartwarming and hilarious journey on Instagram at @pawsonduty.