As a puppy-raiser, I opened my home and heart to Slider. For five months, he was MY black lab. He depended on me for love, care, shelter, food, and peanut butter… lots of peanut butter! As one could imagine, I was worried when I handed him over to his trainer. Not because I was afraid the trainer was not capable of being his caretaker but because I was concerned Slider may have thought I abandoned him. His first owner surrendered him, then he came to me. Not only did we bond, but we had fun together. I would be confused and have questions if I were him.
A few weeks after he moved into the kennel to train, I began to notice something – there was a shift in my thinking. I thought… “he is bonding with another great person right now and that is good for him.” The person I was referring to was his trainer, Andrew. I knew in my heart that Slider was not upset with me about no longer being his mom. He needed to continue down his own path. Another transition came when Slider went from Andrew to his veteran, Jason. That, of course, was the final and most significant event of them all. You see, I believe that all the dogs in this program are special. Almost like they have a sixth sense and understand the process.
If they are a puppy, like in Slider’s case, they start out with a special volunteer who devotes their time to the dog’s growth and development. I looked at it like this… I taught Slider how to love, so he could in-turn love his warrior… love that will help his warrior get past his pain. Throughout the course of Slider’s formal training, I heard so many positive things: that I did a great job raising him, that he was learning at a fast pace. Hearing those things made raising a service dog even more rewarding for me… and more than ever, the worry and fear began to fade away. Then I could just see what matter most: I helped two living things… an innocent, sweet, special dog AND a brave, loyal, and hard-working veteran. Now they are together.
When Slider lived with me, I worked with him on the basic service dog commands, but some areas we really shinned together in were socialization and public access. Slider went to work with me everyday. He went other with me places, too. If I needed a latte… he was in line! If I had to shop for groceries… he was by the cart! If I was dining at a restaurant… he was under the table! He went nearly every place I ventured to and interacted with so many people I came across. His formal training was a smooth process because of the events leading up to it… events that I played a role in.
With the above said, I can sum up the emotions of this experience in one phrase:
“Being selfless is not just a gift to others; it is also a gift to ourselves.”
Why are we here in this world if not to learn, feel, and experience meaningful things? Helping others do the same is a true testament to the beauty of the human heart.