Friday, February 26, 2010

Two Days I Will Never Forget

I spent this past Tuesday and Wednesday at SSD's Team Training. It was definitely worth taking a couple days off work. My initial reason for going was to see Natalie working with her new partner, but I ended up witnessing so much more.

The four teams had only been together a little over a week, yet I saw the bond between dog and person already forming. Though Natalie was excited to see me, she quickly fell back into working with her partner and handler (his mom). I was afraid she would be distracted by me being there and look to me for direction since that's what she was accustomed to, but she didn't. Sure, from time to time she would look at me like, "Hey, why are you over there and not here with me?" but mostly she kept her attention on her job. Though some might find this to be sad, I was actually very happy to see that. The last thing I would want is for her to pine over me. To see her give all of her attention to Carlisle and his mom & dad, reassured me that she was content with her new family.

Natalie was not the only one who looked content, all of the dogs seemed to be enjoying training with their partners. I saw SSD Lil pull and hold open a heavy door for her partner.  SSD Gnat pulled his partner across the room in her manual wheelchair.  And SSD Coriander filed her own nails for partner, a task he taught her himself. Most importantly, I always saw everyone smiling. The two and a half weeks of Team Training are brutal for both dog and person, but everyone took it in stride and continued to work as hard as possible each day.

As a Puppy Raiser, Team Training is the best time to see the effect your dog has on its new partner. On Tuesday we walked around the Harrisburg mall and I got to see first hand how Natalie will help to change her partner's life. I had to fight back tears as I watched her climb into Carlisle's lap, effectively ending an impending meltdown. As soon as she made contact with him, a smile spread across Carlisle's face. It was the most gratifying moment for me.

Everyone always asked me how I was going to be able to give Natalie up. All I can say is, when you see the impact your dog makes on somebody's life, it all becomes worth it. I'm so proud of Natalie for all she's achieved. A part of me will always miss her, but I will never regret my decision to raise a service dog. I would suffer heart break over and over again to give someone that gift, because it is the most precious gift you can give.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Proud Moment

This past weekend was my last with Natalie. Today I lost the right to refer to her as "my dog", because today she officially became her partner's dog. I cried this morning on the way to drop her off at the kennel when that thought occurred to me, but I also knew this was the very thing I had wanted all along. All I can be is grateful for the time I had with her as my own.

I realized something significant today, something that everyone had been trying to tell me all along. As I thought about how happy I was for Natalie, it hit me that I truly should be proud of her- and of me. It takes a special dog to make it all the way to becoming a service dog. It's certainly not an easy feat. Among other things, a service dog must be calm, patient, brave, dependable, and focused. Not every dog is cut out for the life of a working dog. For Natalie to be the first service dog I raised, and to have her make it through all the hurdles to becoming a certified service dog, is certainly something I can be proud of.

I would never take all the credit for Natalie being the dog she is today, though. I tried my best to shape her into a wonderful companion, but I also know she was already a great dog to begin with. I've believed she had the makings of a service dog since she was a puppy. Natalie was always so focused and driven. She loved learning new cues and enjoyed training in public. As she grew and matured, it became a game for me to find new things to challenge her with- a new store, more advanced behaviors- she was always ready and willing.

Though I will miss her, I know in my heart that Natalie will be doing what she was born to do. And I know for certain that she will adore her job as a service dog.