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Day 6 of 31 Days of SMA Topic: Being a Certified Dog Trainer This is Sarah Rodriguez's ( @sarahandsidekicks ) story: Growing up with a disability, I always knew I was different; but when my family adopted our first dog at around 5 years old, my entire world changed. I was introduced to nonjudgmental, unconditional love by a little being who saw me for me and who had no expectations of what I should look like, or what abilities I should have. My love for her was enough, and I never felt more normal than when she looked at me with her loving eyes. She gave me a feeling of acceptance and love. Even though she has since passed, my world forever changed. I have been blessed to feel these feelings with dogs that came into my life after her as well. Each of them brought something unique and special to my life, and I always felt loved and accepted by each. Through this experience, I realized how life-changing the bond between humans and animals can be, and I was saddened to see how many people struggle to bond with their dogs because they don’t understand them or their needs. As I grew up, it became my dream to become a professional dog trainer. With limited mobility, it seemed like a near-impossible dream, but I was determined to try. The most daunting task of the certification process was passing the proficiency verification exam. I had to teach my dog a series of complex behaviors that seemed to require physical movements I could not achieve. I have spent my life adapting to my disability and trying to be creative and independent. Being new to training, it took a lot of trial and error to get it right. I was blessed to meet an experienced professional trainer at a conference who came alongside me and guided me, and became one of my closest friends. I was also blessed that my parents helped me get to conferences, so I could keep learning. I am also grateful for a sister who believed in me and always uplifted me. I am now doing what I am passionate about because of all the love and support of those closest to me, and the whole journey started with the unconditional love of a precious little dog. #SMAAwarenessMonth #SMAAwareness #31daysofsma2020
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