Mindful Moments

I have experienced a bit of stress in the last few weeks, and so has Slider. It’s funny to me though; he seems to handle things so well. Many dogs do. They seem to master what we can’t… embracing turbulence and accepting situations for what they are. Most people struggle with that. I know I do. Maybe it’s because dogs are simple creatures. They are not concerned with phone upgrades and job promotions… nor do they immerse themselves in drama or dwell in what they cannot change. Dogs concentrate on being, not doing. Emily Dickinson once said, “Dogs are better than humans because they know but do not tell.” They cannot betray or disrespect others with words the way people do. Dogs are truly loyal.

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I find the phenomenon of mindfulness very intriguing. It’s hard to grasp, but most people describe it as “being focused on the present moment.” I sometimes get so tied up in my worries and thoughts that I run autopilot. I try to remind myself of this when it occurs, so I can return to what is important: the beauty of now. It is difficult to do. Although dogs cannot speak and do not have the advanced skills that humans possess, I believe they¬† cultivate mindfulness. I observe it on a daily basis when I am with Slider.

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When I take him outside for a walk, he is completely in the moment. His attention is set on nature and his senses become awakened. The way he examines his surroundings… eyes fixated, noise twitching; it is obvious that he is taking everything in. It’s almost like he is saying, “I really like this place and being here. Life is good.” Seeing him this way brings me back to the present and for a brief moment, there is space between my thoughts. I am free of worry. I can let go. It is peaceful.

No wonder dogs can mitigate the horrifying symptoms associated with PTSD and other disabilities. They have many gifts that human beings lack. There are moments when Slider will look at me, in my eyes, and I feel like he is saying… “everything will be ok.” There is a sense of spiritual connectivity that reassure me.

A few nights ago, I was really in need of that reassurance. I called out to Slider, and he jumped onto the sofa to lay by my side. I was reading Whitman. I turned to my favorite poem and read it aloud. Slider intrigued, cuddled closer to me. The poem was:

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 Upon completion of this poem, I realized I was being mindful. A warm feeling of comfort washed over me. I wrapped my arms around Slider and told him thank you.
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A Letter To My Warrior: From Your Future Service Dog

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Dear Future Warrior/Handler,

It will not be long before I am by your side. I am still young – ten months – but the cool new dog training manager, Mike, at K9s For Warriors gave me a pre-evaluation. Mike said he believes I will make a good service dog. He also said I can get a jump start on my training. This works out well because my mom brings me on campus everyday anyway. Now, instead of being near her desk while she works, I get to hang out in the kennel and work with the dog trainers.

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I was assigned my very own kennel and trainer. My trainer’s name is Barb. She is really nice and gives me treats when I do a good job. I miss my mom sometimes and worry she misses me, but I know she understands the mission. I am doing my best to pay attention in training, so I can help you get better. At times, I get distracted. I see interesting people and dogs and want to play with them. But, then I remember that I need to help you, so I work hard to regain my focus. I know you are a veteran and that you have experienced trauma. I also know that you may be sad and worried. I am very sorry, and I understand what it feels like to hurt inside.

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Barb and I

The first family I lived with didn’t want to take care of me. I was lonely and felt like I was doing something wrong… something to make them not love me. I tried my best to be a good puppy. I became depressed and confused. My former family’s neighbors happen to be puppy-raisers for K9s. These special volunteers are fostering my friend Macho, who is also an aspiring service dog! They saw how I was treated and offered to take me to K9s For Warriors; they thought I would be a good candidate for the program. My former family agreed to let me go, and I heard them say that I would fail. It was very easy for them to give me away, which broke my heart. When the volunteers brought me to Camp K9, I was evaluated by a lady named Deb. She told me I was pretty awesome and that I passed my evaluation. I was so excited! I learned that I was going to a new home until I am old enough to move into the kennel, where I will learn to become your service dog.

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That day, I met my foster mom, Samantha. She embraced me with a very warm hug and made me feel special. I began to feel better, and the images of my former owners began to fade away. I went home with my mom that night, and we bonded right away. I love Samantha. I am not afraid to be myself around her. She will act silly with me. She also takes me to cool places like Starbucks. Samantha has a little boy named Mason, and I love him, too. I sleep in his bedroom with him every night. He tells me that I keep him safe. I enjoy feeling needed. Samantha and Mason have been very supportive of me. When Samantha was told that I would begin training, she was very happy and proud.

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Look at me practicing “down.” See the determination on my face?

It’s only been a few days since I started training. I have had some ups and downs, but I am ok with that. When I first went into the kennel, I was scared. But, I knew this would be an opportunity for me to conquer fear and doubt. I would like to help you do that as well. I believe we will make a good team. I am going to help you do the things you once enjoyed. I’ve learned some things about PTSD, TBI, and MST. I know I am a dog and don’t always comprehend people things, but I have a big heart and special spirit. I can feel emotions. I am a good listener, too. You can tell me anything. I won’t judge you. I can’t talk, so your secrets are safe! But, even if I had the ability to use words, I wouldn’t tell anyone. My mom recently went through a difficult time, and I would jump into her lap when she was upset. I know it made her feel better. I will do the same for you. Until then, I will be working hard to prepare for the day we become a team. I can’t wait to be your battle buddy.

Sincerely,

Slider

Woof-Worthy Places Of Jax

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As part of Slider’s socialization and pre-service dog training, I take him to a ton of places with me around Jacksonville. I’ve been keeping a mental note of which ones have been the most welcoming. Under the ADA, I am not required to get permission to access a public place with Slider. However, it is very nice when business employees and owners enjoy our presence. Believe it or not, there are places that would prefer us to take our business elsewhere. We still go on in, of course. Sometimes we may even get snarky!

On the contraire – there are places out there on the First Coast that think we are awesome. These businesses engage with us and show an authentic interest us. They are very courteous and respectful, which is certainly appreciated. In other words, we basically love these establishments!

Places approved by Slider with a tail-wag!


Woof Gang Bakery

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This chic doggy boutique and spa has a great energy. Slider enjoyed exploring all their great product lines, including his very favorite… Merrick. Slider picked out some super fancy bakery items and got a spiffy doughnut toy. The staff was very friendly and even gave us a bunch of samples to take back to Camp K9. We can’t wait to go back to order his birthday cake!


World of Beer

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Meeting my friends here when I have Slider is always a good time. The staff is very hospitable – always offering him treats and fresh water. Slider likes sitting at (or under) the high-top tables because it is super roomy for him.


Bank Of America (Baymeadows Rd Location)

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This is the first place Slider understood the “cover” command. I was at the bank to make a transaction but also practicing training with Slider. The staff could see that I was trying to work with him, and they were very understanding.


Starbucks (Southside Blvd and Gate Pkwy Locations)

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They have a poster on their community board that says “we welcome service animals!” I have to say… they really do. Slider and I venture into Starbucks a few times a week, so I can get a cinnamon dolce latte, and it is always a positive experience. Slider is a big fan of the cup of whipped cream topped with a dog treat!


Poe’s

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This environment is so relaxed. With outdoor patio seating, patrons can dine with their dogs. Slider likes the smell of burgers and if I accidentally drop a shoestring french fry onto the floor – his day has improved. The employees here are very outgoing and easy to chat with.


Veteran’s United Brewery

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This brewery understands the importance of service dogs, because they are all about veterans. Slider has met some of the employees here and has even helped them out with a recent social media post. VU also permits nonservice dogs inside, which is great because Slider can socialize with other dogs while I socialize with other people.


I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these wonderful places for their great service and awareness of service dog etiquette.

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Thanks!!!