One week from today, we will part ways. You are heading to professional training at Canine Companions for Independence, aka doggy college, and I couldn’t be prouder. You’re a very special dog – unlike those civilian dogs we pass on the street every day, you are a service dog in training. You are learning to become a life partner of a child, adult, or veteran with a disability, or you may work in a facility that helps many people. How cool is that?
That’s why we’ve been going to puppy training classes and working on all those commands. That’s why I ask you to ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and ‘heel’ all the time. That’s why I ask you to walk backwards or put your front two paws up on a counter. That’s why I ask you to lay so quietly and nicely next to my desk at work all day.
You know how I say “dress” and we put on your vest and leash? That’s your uniform you wear when you are working. Remember how it took you a really long time to figure out how to “speak” on command? That was a tough one, but you figured it out. I know it’s been hard, but there’s a reason we ignore the other dogs on the street – it is all part of your focused training as a Canine Companions service dog.
We’ve had a lot of fun together, too. Remember learning how to swim with that pretty black lab in the Long Island Sound? You were a little timid but as soon as you saw Gibson having such a good time you jumped right in. Remember flying to Buffalo for the first time to see your grandma who has that mean, chubby dachshund? I know, I know. I didn’t tell you, but that waddling dog bit me a couple years ago, so now we both don’t like him – but don’t tell Grandma!
Traveling to Buffalo also meant you saw your first Buffalo Bills game! And you also saw the Brooklyn Nets, the Yankees, and the Chicago Cubs play, too. We went fishing in Canada, rode a tractor in Maryland and even placed a bet at the Kentucky Derby. We took some of your fellow Canine Companions pups in training to see the New Year’s Eve Ball in Times Square.
You were on TV a bunch of times with a really nice lady named Dana Perino. I know how much you love her, the way you get all excited after sitting in the control room and then meeting her after the show. You especially enjoyed when we got to hang out with her dog Jasper, one of your best friends who can be really hard to keep up with!
I know people like to see puppies and dogs on TV, but you always had a special message when you went on TV with that nice lady. You were creating awareness about what it’s like to have a disability. You showed millions of people that a service dog can help someone be more independent, and perhaps even save their life. This is what you were born to do, Spike.
Here we are today, now at the point where I’ve taught and shown you all I can. It’s best for your training if we don’t see each other, and yes, that makes me sad. But it’s for a good reason. You are going to have a new best friend at Canine Companions - a professional trainer who will teach you so much more.
Spike, you need to listen to everything they say – focus and follow all the instructions! Be a good boy and study hard. You will be working all day long and it may be tiring at first, but stick with it. Go to bed early and have all those sweet puppy dreams you have every night where your legs move as if you are chasing squirrels.
While I want nothing more than for you to be a really successful service dog, it’s also possible that you weren’t meant for that job. So you also need to know it’s OK if you go through all this training and just want to be a civilian dog. You will figure it out, and I’ll be proud of you no matter what.
I will be really sad next Friday, but I will also be so proud of all we have accomplished together. So, after you get your cap and gown and matriculate, after the crowds disappear and we have to say goodbye, just remember - I love you so, so much. You are the best boy, Spike. You have been my best friend and partner. You have changed my life. And I can’t wait for you to change someone else’s.
P.S. – If you want to help Spike and his classmates provide independence to people with disabilities go to cci.org/spike