Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wise beyond her years

It used to take a lot to make me cry, but it seems to happen more and more frequently the closer Natalie gets to being placed with her partner. I feel like a parent who's watched her child grow up, graduate from college and now has to say goodbye as she watches them move on with their life- to bigger & better things. On one hand, it's sad.... Natalie has been a big part of my life for the last (nearly) two years. I can't deny that I've become quite attached to her. But, there's still that other hand...

As Natalie grew and matured from a fuzzy, little puppy to a sleek, mature adult, I was aware that she was something special, something different. When other dogs her age would have ignored their natural instinct and let loose, she often surpised me by embracing it. She comforted people when they most needed it- even if it meant she had to spend time away from me (which was generally unheard of). She walked next to a wheelchair, with little guidance, like she'd been doing it her entire life. She learned new cues with a great determination to figure out exactly what was being asked of her. Walking amongst 42,000 students on campus at Penn State, she amazed me by ignoring every single one of them and focusing solely on her job. It was after all of this that I realized what I had unconsciously known for quite some time- that Natalie was born to be someone's Service Dog.

Last Winter, I took Nattie to the dog park in State College to burn off some energy. Natalie loves to run and especially loves being chased by other dogs, so I was happy to see a large group of dogs there that day for her to play with. But, as I stood at one end of the enclosed field talking to the owners, I couldn't find her playing amongst the other dogs. My eyes scanned the field and finally stopped at the far side where someone's little boy was wandering. Tears sprang to my eyes as I took in the sight; there right by his side was my Natalie. As the boy walked aimlessly around she followed him step-for-step, completely glued to him. The other dogs ran wildly around, but Nat ignored them all to instead listen to the boy chatter nonsense in her ear. Until then, I hadn't considered the possibility of her being placed with a child. It seemed to me that most of the dogs went to people in wheelchairs. But as I watched the pair of them trek through their own imagined world, I realized how magical that could be.

I thought I knew how much getting a Service Dog meant to the people who need them, but when I read the blog created for Natalie's partner, I was completely blindsided. I read how they had been on the waiting list for 2 years and tears welled in my eyes, already threatening to fall with that one thought. Two years....Natalie was born almost exactly two years ago. Was this who she was destined for all along? As I got to the most recent posts, where they had first met Natalie and then been informed by SSD that she had been matched with them, with him- "her" boy, I could tell how much this meant to the family. It was then that I knew I would be able to do this, to give this gift of Natalie to someone I don't even know. I always known it would be hard to say the final goodbye to her, but I am now certain that she is doing what she was always meant to do. And I look forward to that day at graduation when I can officially hand SSD Natalie over to her partner.
Halloween 2009