I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to give, to volunteer and to serve. Three weeks from today, I will give Spike back to Canine Companions for Independence where he will enter the next phase of his life, advanced training – aka doggy college. When people ask about Spike and hear that we turn these dogs back in, they then almost always say “I could never do that.” Or “I could never give him back.” And I know it seems like a lot.
Pets – and dogs specifically – are integral parts of our family. They bring us great joy. They give you a friendly lick or drop their face in your lap when they sense you’re feeling down. They get the zoomies and run around the house so fast with a goofy stutter step that makes you laugh. And they can destroy your shoes and furniture in a matter of minutes. Then they wait by the door for your kids to come home from school and wag their tail endlessly upon seeing them and all is forgiven.
But some dogs were meant for other things. I have heard from countless Canine Companions graduates how our service dogs have changed their lives. How they were once isolated in their own home, not wanting to leave, and now because of their service dog they became more social, found a partner and started a family.
I’ve heard of how our wounded veterans came home and can’t function or live a normal life because of the visible and invisible scars from war. How some thought life was over or not worth living. And how a service dog made life manageable, even joyful again.
I’ve heard of how children with disabilities and special needs felt left out of normal school activities -- or even worse, made fun of. How they didn’t have a normal childhood. And then they got a service dog and now they are one of the most popular kids at school. How they are eager to learn, throw a ball, improve their motor skills, or try a new task.
That is why and how I can give Spike up.
My friend and colleague Ed Henry just did something incredibly selfless - and brave. Two weeks ago Ed underwent a very extensive surgery so that he could donate 30% of his liver to his sister Colleen who suffers from a degenerative liver disease. He went through months of pre-op tests and evaluations. I can only imagine the deeply personal questions about family and life that must have been going through his head.
I must admit, I have never thought of being a living organ donor, even though I’m well aware of the need, given all the surgeries my late brother Kyle, who was a paraplegic, went through. I have checked off the box at the DMV agreeing to be an organ donor, as I think that’s the right thing to do should some unfortunate accident happen. The opportunity to be a living donor has never come up for me, but Ed’s selflessness has started a conversation for many of us about what we would do if it did.
Here’s the thing, though. We weren’t all meant to be living organ donors. And we all don’t have to be volunteer service puppy raisers to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Here’s what you can do. You can serve, volunteer in many different ways. You can donate. You can retweet. You can support a friend in need. If you want to learn more about organ donation - go to organdonor.gov and/or check that box at the DMV!
Canine Companions for Independence gives service dogs free of charge to adults, children and veterans with disabilities. Free, so that there is no barrier to getting a life-saving service dog. And you can help by going to cci.org/spike.
Yes, it is that simple.