April 21, 2011

Letting Her Lead

The other day, my friend Tamara tweeted a touching little story that I was lucky enough to catch:

"Saw something special on my way to work this am...an elderly golden retriever walking with her mom. Mom was very patient with her slow walk. I thought now that is a lovely relationship. :o)"

The vignette made me smile and stayed with me. My friend's words inspired me to share a very important part of this journey I'd always meant to write about.

Two peas, a long time ago when we were both pups.

Kiva was 11 years old when I made the decision to raise a service puppy. I had debated for months about bringing a new dog into my one-senior-dog household. Kiva is tolerant, very well socialized, and she's met hundreds of other dogs in her lifetime without issue, but she had never shared her home with anyone. I wanted very much to be a service puppy raiser, but I worried if my gentle oldster could accept a toddler superball bouncing all over her space. If they did bond, would Kiva have trouble with the loss when it was time for the puppy to move on? Would she feel threatened or jealous of all the attention I'd need to devote to training a service puppy? Was I asking too much of my precious girl?

I worried constantly in the weeks leading up to the puppy’s arrival. I should have known that I didn’t have to. As soon as our service puppy, Ruby, arrived, Kiva accepted the puppy without reservation, scattering my shadowy doubts to the breeze like dandelions. She always turns my worries into wishes and makes them all come true.

Kiva nurtured Ruby, guiding with her gentle nature and the experience of age. She imparted a calmness into the puppy that only a dog can convey to another. Kiva’s invaluable lessons will serve Ruby well as she becomes a service dog whose actions are careful and deliberate. And, throughout that year and a half, Kiva gave me as many gifts as she gave Ruby. She accepted Ruby with a level of patience I can only ever try to live up to. She let me delight in the whole experience, enjoying it with me. And the morning after Ruby left us to move on to advanced training, Kiva glanced around the bedroom for a moment or two...then flipped a toy in the air and never questioned me.

These days, at nearly 13 years old, Kiva needs me to walk a little more slowly with her, too. But no matter how long it takes her to get me there, she still always leads me where I need to go.

April 12, 2011

Pupdate: That's My Girl

If there's one talent Ruby's cultivated from day one, it would be her excellent behavior while shopping. The raiser who was at the other end of her leash loves to shop, so Roo did get a lot of practice in those days...

...and for us, it was always equal-opportunity shopping!

Where she really shined, though, was the supermarket. Aside from a very early puppy fascination with licking the wheels of the cart as they spun – which was REVOLTING and I put a stop to IMMEDIATELY – she was fantastic.

I wrote a post back in August 2009 about one of baby Roo's adventures in food shopping. She was fearful of big boxes, but we worked through it that day and never had a problem again.

Now that Ruby's moved on to advanced training, I'm lucky to have been receiving photos from Sue, a very thoughtful person whom I have never actually met. She has photographed some of Ruby's advanced sessions and outings, and I am grateful to Ruby's advanced trainer and to Sue for giving me this window into Roo's education.

The photos are always a surprise. I never know what Sue's going to send me and I've never requested a specific shot...except one. I asked Sue if there was ever the possibility to snap Ruby training in the market, it would mean the world to me.

It's funny. I took thousands of photos during the time I spent with Ruby, but grocery shopping was such a part of an ordinary day, I never even thought to shoot one of the hundreds of trips we made to the store as she grew older. Walking the aisles with Roo beside my cart plays like a movie in my memory, though, and there was something about the familiarity of our routine that made our market trips so special.

That's why I was thrilled to receive this photo:

I get choked up each time I look at it; the gentle beauty of her training and how far she's come.

I don't yet know if Ruby will go on to graduate and assist someone with everyday tasks such as shopping at the market. But if she does, I can only imagine the love and partnership the two will share, how comforting their routines together will be.

April 4, 2011

Photo Pupdate: A Skill She Was Born To Learn

Service dogs in training learn to pick up their bowls to make the feeding routine easier for their partners with mobility issues. If I know my ravenous chowhound puppy, I'll bet she got the hang of this skill in about three seconds!

Adorable photo courtesy S.