October 6, 2010

What She Brings

Ruby is 17 months old and now that we're in the homestretch, I've been thinking a lot about our time together over the past year. I hold so much in my heart, but one thing above the rest.

I think any of us would say that when we're out alone or with friends – at restaurants, movies, or particularly when we're shopping – we don't interact much with the people around us. Why would we? Everyone is busy, preoccupied with their own errands and agenda. Not much eye contact or connecting with random strangers. All of these little worlds doing their best not to collide.

The scene is altered when you're out with a service puppy. I'd take Ruby out at 12 weeks old and I knew we'd have lots of attention because she was just so adorable. As she got older, I expected the public's curiosity. But without fail, wherever we are, people see us and smile. They invite eye contact. They start conversations, ask questions, or just say something kind.

I took her to the mall the other day for some training.

A few minutes after I took this shot, an older couple sat down in that seat and watched us work. Ruby and I were really concentrating, totally in the zone, practicing some difficult things with lots of distractions, and she was really nailing it. I knew the couple was watching, but I didn't make eye contact with them until we finished. Then I sat in the chair across from them, smiled, and saw them just beaming.

We started to chat about Ruby and her training. They told me about a person in their church who had also raised a service puppy. I told them about my Kiva. I learned about their precious dogs who had each lived to the exact same age and each passed away on the very same day, fifteen years apart. We talked about movies! We just...talked.

We got to know each other, even if only for a few minutes. I met these wonderful people, no longer strangers, over a smile.

That is what has struck me so deeply. People see us together, they respect us, recognize what we are doing, and they are happy. And that makes me indescribably happy in return.

We tend to think of service dogs for their physical assistance, but they bring just as much, or more, to their partners on an emotional level. One of the reasons I decided to raise a service puppy is because I am so aware of, and so grateful for, the joy that Kiva has brought to my life. Because of her, I wanted to give back, to help bring a unique joy and presence to someone else's life.

Yet raising this service puppy has brought so much to my life as well. To truly enjoy the company of strangers. To meet and know people I otherwise never would have. To have the opportunity to talk with so many people about her training.

To see smiles everywhere I look.

I reflect on the number of people we pass in a day and wonder how many hearts and minds my little service puppy has burrowed into. When someone who has encountered us sees a person with a disability, perhaps they'll think of Ruby. Maybe they'll remember what she was learning, and better understand the challenges that person faces. And rather than look away or stare, they'll smile.

Update: Let's share the message! Please cast your vote for Raising Ruby for "Best Blog Post" at the 2011 Petties Awards and help us spread the word that smiles, rather than stares, can make a world of difference for individuals with disabilities. 

Just click here to vote: http://dogtime.com/petties


Lori Jablons said...

This is a beautiful post. You are creating some incredible stuff with Roo, so you are absolutely going to get that in return. :)

Khyra And Sometimes Her Mom said...

If only more were like 'us'

Smiles can work wonders

Just like these incredible canines you help to be able to help!


Khyra's Mom
P.S. What a leak inspiring post - but the good kind of leak!

♥♥♥ The OP Pack ♥♥♥ said...

Your words so touched our Mom. A true sign that you were made to do what you do - so obvious that it brings you great joy and maybe some pride too. Thanks for sharing some thoughts that are too often overlooked in today's busy world.

Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder,and Ciara

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring post for all us dog lovers out there... you have always had a strong connection with these canines and I know you are living proof that people should always pursue what they are passionate about..because happiness will be granted :)

Lisa, Ellie and Hosta said...

THat's so beautiful - and so true!!

Cami said...

Beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

All right - I stopped reading your posts at work because I would sit here and laugh out loud, but today I decided to take a peak at your blog and now I'm crying!
Beautiful! You go Ruby!

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

Tears and smiles ...all at the same time...what a beautiful post. I so admire the job you are doing with Ruby, and I can't imagine how hard it will be to let her go. You are so courageous.

I had an art opening the other day and one of the guests had her guide dog puppy in training. Having a guide dog career changer myself, I just had to talk to her. Her pup was wonderful, calm and beautiful and she has had a great time training him. She said, too, it's always a great way to meet new people. I'd never thought about it that way until I read your wonderful post!

Alphini's Puppy Raiser said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. It touched us deeply. What a beautiful gift you and Ruby have given us readers. All those wonderful emotions we feel when we read your blog.
SMILE! Yes we will always smile when we think of "Raising Ruby"

Becky said...

So beautiful and one of the joys as a guide dog user too. People interact with me and talk and share. Thank you for all you do - such an incredible service. Thank you too for your sweet comments about our Missy Girl.

Shauna (Fido and Wino) said...

I *love* the connections dogs give us to the people around us- I love watching people's face light up when they see a dog :)

1000 Goldens said...

Love, love, love this post. You touch my heart!

The Thundering Herd said...

Dogs - in particular, well behaved dogs - do seem to attract smiles and conversations. Because we live in a tourist area, so many people are visiting here and their dogs are being boarded at home. They want just a few minutes of a dogs hug and love - and, of course, we offer that and then learn a little about them

Great post.

Tammy said...

What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it with us!

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Years ago, I interviewed a novelist who raised a puppy as research for her book that featured a service puppy, and she spoke with firefighters at a nearby station nearly every day while walking her pup.

Once the puppy graduated on in training, the firefighters no longer recognized her when she walked by.

Carly Findlay said...

Such a beautiful blog entry. I am sure Ruby has captured many hearts and made people think about the importance of service dogs for people with disabilities.
I love how Ruby is allowing you to meet so many wonderful people, and really influence peoples' perceptions.
Well done to all of you.