A True Service Dog
By Will Guild, USA
For just over seven years now, Gus, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi has been my service dog and - true to the old adage - this man's best friend. To be sure, he saved my life.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with severe PTSD. I had served in the Navy for over thirty years as a SEAL. I had been to combat, lost friends, and saw things I wanted to forget. People experience PTSD differently, and my issue presented as depression and sleep disorder. As someone who regularly and comfortably worked under the cover of night, I had become claustrophobic in the dark and afraid that something or someone trained like me would come for me. Decades of setting security in the field, being at high alert led to a kind of collapse, and I now felt too anxious and vulnerable to fall into deep sleep. I was prescribed sleep medication, but I hated the way it made me feel, and the anxiety was still there.
My psychiatrist suggested I acquire a dog. He thought having a dog could address both my issues: offering the responsibility of taking care of another being, which would help me be more present and get me out of my own drama; and providing a protector to watch over me while I slept, which would allow me the confidence required to relax and get some desperately needed deep sleep. It made perfect sense to me. And I'll admit it: I really wanted a dog.
I immediately considered a German Shepherd, but having owned two of them growing up, I was aware of their needs with regard to space and exercise. Because I lived in a studio apartment on the island of Coronado California, I knew that my environment would be a hardship on a large dog. So, I began to research different breeds, looking for the requisite characteristics of a good companion animal - intelligence, sensitivity, protectiveness, trainability, and sociability -- along with the ability to flourish in the circumscribed space of an overpopulated resort town.
My research led me to Corgis. Now, I must admit, I had never imagined owning a Cardigan Corgi, much less enlisting one to function as my service dog. I was vaguely aware of the breed and knew they had a common ancestor with the dachshund and were even more closely related to the Pembroke. I thought the Cardigan was a cute dog, one that looked as if it were made from spare parts from a shop well stocked in ears but fresh out of legs. But it seemed a dog perfect for families with children and small backyards -- hardly a dog for a single man who was also a Navy SEAL.
Again, the research kept leading me back to this remarkable dog and as I read and witnessed more, I reconsidered my previous bias. They were tops in all measured fields of desirable dog behavior and health considerations, and they fulfilled every requirement of a service animal. When I read that the Welsh fondly consider the Cardigan to be the German Shepherd without legs, I was hooked -- not to mention, I wanted a dog with a tail. Maybe, I thought, I'd found the very dog I'd set out to find: a portable German Shepherd.
I called a reputable dog trainer in San Diego and asked her about Corgis and where I might find a reputable breeder. She referred me to Susan Lassila of Shadowalk in Montana whom I called immediately. Susan readily answered all of my questions, asked me the questions a conscientious breeder would ask of a prospective owner, including whether I knew what I was getting myself in for. She informed me of the strong will and stubbornness innate to a dog bred to make decisions on a farm or ranch, a job which included standing up to uncooperative cattle. Hmmm, I thought: brave, stubborn, willful, and smart... Sounds familiar, I'm in. So Susan put me in the queue. When she called me back several months later to inform me of a litter, I told her what I was looking for and put the pick of the litter in her hands. Nine weeks later I picked up an eight-pound tricolor at the San Diego Cargo terminal. I promptly named him Gus.
Gus has been with me now for seven years, and he is everything and more that Susan said he would be. I have owned several dogs in my life, and I can say without hesitation that my experience with Gus has been the most rewarding. He's extraordinarily loyal and easy to train; mindful but never a cur; reliable but not robotic in his obedience. I initially wanted a companion animal, something to take care of in order to keep my mind off my own troubles. What I got was my best friend.
Experience certainly changes perspective. Now, out of respect and love for Gus (and our newest addition to the family, Merle from Raconteur Cardigans), I would have trouble comparing a Cardigan to any other breed of dog. They are quite simply a force unto themselves, perhaps due in part to their ancient origins. I no longer think of them as cute or funny looking. They appear nothing less than noble to me, creatures of great character and grit. It seems, therefore, that one should be deferential when making comparisons and let them be the standard against which other breeds are measured: German Shepherds are like tall Cardigans.
From the 75th Anniversary CWCCA Handbook 2017 and reproduced with kind permission.