Janette Lawler received her first CCI dog in November of 1997, five years and a day after the accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. At the time, Janette was somewhat unique in the CCI family in that they hadn’t placed dogs with someone with as high of an injury level as she has. “A lot of their dogs were trained to bring things up to people’s laps where they could get them.” With her level of injury, that wasn’t possible for Janette. During the initial interview process, the staff at CCI was open about the fact that they really didn’t know if a service dog was going to work for her or not. “I think they realized how outspoken I was, and that I was comfortable asking for help – from people as well as from dogs!”
Justin, a yellow lab, loved attention just as much as Janette. The team did a lot of fund-raising for CCI, and Janette felt that Justin thought that being in the spotlight was his real work. “All you had to do,” she said, “was point a camera and I swear that dog would smile.” Justin worked for ten years for Janette, then lived with her family for another three years as a retired dog.
Christine, a black lab and Janette’s second service dog, is now semi-retired and will officially retire when her license expires in June. She and Janette were match in 2008. Justin and Christine were polar opposites personality-wise, and Janette said that getting used to Christine was a huge challenge. Unlike Justin, Christine has been amazingly well-behaved but doesn’t necessarily want attention. “She was never going to put her paws on the arm of my wheelchair and pose for a photo.”
Janette is now on CCI’s waiting list for a successor service dog. Instead of getting a side placement, like Christine, Janette plans to go back to CCI for team training. “It’s been almost twenty years, and I need my own tune-up!” The actual successor list takes almost as long as getting a first dog. Janette laughed. “I didn’t realize that you could apply for a successor before you had retired your service dog.”
This period of being without a service dog is a bit strange for Janette. “When I leave the house,” she said, “I feel like I am forgetting something.” Janette does have human help almost twenty-four hours a day, so she won’t be losing independence while she waits for the next dog. For events like CCI fund-raisers, other volunteer activities, and public speaking, she noted that it feels awkward to be dog-free. “I love telling you about how great these dogs are, but if I’m unable to show you, it’s just not as impressive. I still want to be included, but I don’t feel as effective, so I don’t sign up as much.”
Travel has always been Janette’s passion. She was working in the hospitality industry before she was injured. “After I was injured, my first question was how I was going to be able to work again and support my son, because I was a single mother. My second question was when was I going to be able to travel?” She developed her own home-based travel agency, Wheelchair Wanderlust (check out their Facebook page!). She focuses on planning cruises, usually group cruises, and planning accessible travel. This way, she explained, “they don’t have to spend the hours and hours researching places I’ve already been to.”
Another of Janette’s main activities is the Jimmy Buffet fan club, Parrot Heads in Paradise. Jimmy Buffet is known not only for his music, but also for his emphasis on fund-raising. “A huge portion of what he makes goes to charities of various types,” Janette said. The motto of the national Parrot Heads in Paradise organization is “Party with a Purpose,” and Janette lives that motto to the best of her abilities. Each month, the local chapter has a raffle that raises anywhere from $300-$800, and each month it goes to a different charity. “It becomes addictive to be around people who are involved in that type of giving.” Between that and CCI, Janette feels fortunate to be involved in two amazingly rewarding organizations.