When I tell people I am going to be training a service dog, and that my family will be the dog’s foster family, that this will take two-and-a-half years of our lives, and then we’ll give the dog up, they have two questions.
Why do you want to do this?
I love animals. I mean, I adore animals. I always have and always will. I had a dog briefly as a kid. I’ve had several cats, rats, and a rabbit. I hand feed the squirrels and a pair of mallard ducks that come to our yard. For a long time when I was younger, my life ambition was to be an ethologist, a scientist who studies animal behavior in the wild.
Right after college, I worked in the Dean of Students office at The University of Texas. Services for Students with Disabilities was right across from my desk. I saw all the students come and go from that office. I saw the students in wheelchairs and some of the challenges they faced getting around. I saw the guide dogs working for the blind students.
I’ve been aware of Helping Paws for over a decade, and that whole time have been thinking this is an organization I’d like to get involved with some day.
Now, my partner, Scott, and I live near Helping Paws. We have a big fenced yard. We don’t have another pet at the moment. He loves retrievers. Most importantly, we share the same value system. Scott and I believe in the importance of doing good for society. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how this endeavor will probably change us and our children for the better.
We’ve volunteered before, some projects short term–an evening at a food shelf–some long term–mentoring a teen-mother. This is going to be two-and-a-half years with a puppy in our home, a member of our family. We, all five of us, are going to love this dog like crazy. This is also going to be following the rules and participating in an ongoing training program, so that at the end of our time together, this dog will be able to help a person with a physical disability lead a more independent life. The thousands of hours we put into this puppy will literally change one person’s life.
This is like nothing we’ve ever done before and we’re excited to be a part of the program.
How are you going to give up the dog?
Most people shake their heads and say, “I could never give up the dog.” I know I can. Scott can. The kids don’t have a choice. They weren’t too crazy about the idea of a temporary pet at first, but as we’ve been talking about the program and preparing for the day we bring the puppy home, they’ve come around.
We’re going into this knowing that the puppy is not ours. Not really. The dog will always belong to Helping Paws. That’s why we’re called a “foster family.” We also won’t ever forget the goal, because we’ll be following Helping Paws rules round the clock to make certain this dog is ready to work with and for another person.
Helping Paws publishes stories from their graduates in every newsletter. Read some of these stories. You’ll be moved and awed. You might still doubt that you could give up the dog, but you’ll understand what an amazing, life-changing event occurs when a graduate receives a service dog.
When the time comes, I’ll write about giving up the dog. I’m sure it will be hard. I’m sure I’ll cry. I’m sure I’ll be proud of our dog and happy for the graduate who gets to take her home.
Our puppy comes home on May 11th, just in time for Mother’s Day! We are receiving a girl. After I meet her, I’ll give her a name–it’s a privilege of the trainer’s, to name the puppy. And of course, there will be photos!