In a short 28 days from today, Spike, the best boy ever who has constantly been by my side for 17 months, will be moving on. I will give him back to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) so he can go to “college,” where professional trainers will teach him everything else he needs to become a highly trained service dog. And, if he passes, he’ll then go on to be the life partner of someone with a disability, or brighten many lives in a facility for adults or children with special needs.
I’m always asked, “How can you give him up?” The answer is easy — there are those that need him a lot more than I do. But even thought it's true, it's still difficult, and I want to make every day count.
A couple of weeks ago, Spike accidentally took his first international trip when my boyfriend Chris and I made a wrong turn driving around Buffalo, N.Y., and ended up in the “CANADA ONLY” lane to Niagara Falls, which had no option for a U-turn. I was frustrated at first about our accidental detour, as we didn’t have our passports. But after pleading our case with Canadian officials and convincing them we weren’t convicted felons, they let us enter Canada.
Chris had never been to Niagara Falls and neither had Spike, so we decided to make the best of the situation and head to the Falls. It was the quickest trip — we had a flight to catch in a couple of hours, but it was totally worth it. It was a beautiful day out, and if you’re close enough, you can feel the mist from the Falls on your face.
I’m not sure Spike truly understood the wonder of this falling water, but I wouldn’t change our detour for anything.
The following week was a trip to Boston and New Hampshire, for a girls' weekend with some of my college friends. Spike has been a bit apprehensive about swimming in pools, as he hasn’t figured out how to get in and out yet. Luckily, my freshman-year roommate Tricia has two energetic labrador retrievers – Forest and Jackson – and a pool. They both jumped in without hesitation as Spike watched anxiously from the side.
You could see he wanted to jump in too. We kept throwing sticks in the pool for Forest and Jackson, and finally Spike found the steps and started swimming. A few minutes later, Spike was jumping right in after his friends without hesitation. (Learning how to jump into a pool is not a requirement of Canine Companion dogs but it’s always good that they aren’t fearful in any situation.)
We also visited a classmate who has ALS, a degenerative disease with no cure. We all spent the afternoon reminiscing about the past and talking about the future. Spike got to practice some of his commands with her in her motorized wheelchair, bringing a smile to everyone’s face.
It was a special day, yet a bittersweet reminder of the need to make every day count.
And then, just last week, another trip to Canada – this time on purpose – for a beautiful Fourth of July weekend at Lake of the Woods. Spike had his first boat ride and caught (or helped to catch) his first fish, a walleye. Very tasty, at least for me — Spike is only allowed to eat his kibble.
The adventure continued with our 6-plus-hour drive back to Minneapolis from Ontario. About an hour into the drive, Delta alerted us to significant delays in our flight, so we took the opportunity to explore a set of large roadside statues that are peppered throughout northern Minnesota. There’s a giant fish statue in Baudette, which is on the border of Canada, named ‘Willie the Walleye.’ Next up, we stopped at a giant flying black duck in the town of Black Duck. Our last stop was the most famous statue of all — Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, at the origin of the Mississippi River. And Spike capped off his day with a quick, cool swim in the Mississippi. It was quite an unexpected and fun road trip for Spike, Chris and I.
It was a long day, and we were all exhausted when we finally got on the plane. And then, the sweetest thing happened.
Our Delta flight attendant, Chelsea, was wonderful and cheerful in spite of irritable passengers after the long delay. And she asked about Spike, remarking on what a good boy he is. (He is a very good boy, in case that’s not clear). When I told her I was giving him back to Canine Companions in a month to finish his training, I got a little teary. As the day gets closer, it all just gets a little harder.
Right before we landed, Chelsea came back with a gift: an (unused) air-sickness bag with some cocktail napkins acting as tissue paper, and underneath was a bottle of wine. Chelsea wrote on the bag, “Enjoy the rest of your time with Spike. Whoever gets him will be so lucky!”
I could not agree more,
So go out there and make every day count, whether you are raising a service dog or not. Life is short, people, so make the most of it.