From Shelter Dog to Service Dog
May 21, 2013 | By Kimberly Wang
by Kimberly Wang
When Theo first came home from the pound six years ago, he went straight for his new, corduroy bed and didn’t make a peep for three days. How disorienting it must have been for him to go from being caged up for three months at the shelter, to having a new family and a new home. I should note that the shelter had named him ‘Pauly’ and it took over a week for his new name to surface. So, back then, he was simply called,The New Kid.
Theo's first day in his new home.
It amused me to see him so quiet, because at the shelter, he’d been a wild child when I took him out to socialize in an effort to get to know him. He leapt about like a bucking bronco, tore at the leash, put his sharp teeth on my appendages, and ricocheted from one end of the lead to the other. I thought: Hey Buddy, if i’d been in that concrete run for as long as you have, I’d be going bonkers too!
So, we rambled about until he was able to focus a bit, and I made my first attempt to show him what it meant to walk at my side. I can’t say he had a tremendous amount of patience for this exercise, but I noticed that when I made smoochy noises to draw his attention, he swung his pointy nose in my direction and made a lovely bit of direct eye contact. When I spoke to him in a peppy voice to engage him, he raised his eyebrows in a way that said: I really have no idea what language you’re speaking but I like the sound of your voice!
Between Naps after arriving at his new home for the first time.
I knew I wanted a dog who had a tremendous capacity to learn, who enjoyed connecting with people. I needed a dog who could work. And despite Theo’s spasmodic-extravaganza, in the two hours we spent together in the shelter parking lot, it became clear that he was interested in connecting with humans, possessed the ability to focus, and was hungry to learn.
As our play session wound down, we claimed a patch of grass and settled in for a face to face chat.
I said, Would you like to be sprung from this place, my friend? I’m thinking we’d make an excellent team.
Theo nuzzled me a bit and and put his skinny paw in my hand, and I said, Well, then that’s it. It’s so nice to know we’re on the same page.
More sleep for the New Dog.
Once home, when the shock of his new surroundings dissipated, Theo returned to his normal, obstreperous self. We guessed that he was only 8 months old at the time, and completely devoid of definable skills. It would be another year and three months before he’d be ready to work and take on the role of Service Dog.
A Service Dog at last.
I love thinking about the journey we made together. There were mangled shoes, soiled rugs, howling jags (Crate Training. Oy vay.) and teeth marks on tender skin. But we got through it.
And now, every morning, I wake to this: Sweet, sweet, Theo.
I don’t know how I got so lucky, but damn, I’m grateful. One of the life changing lessons I’ve learned over the years, with Theo by my side, is the importance of having faith, even when the challenges seem insurmountable at times. He sidles up to the edge of the bed in the morning, and wakes me with the touch of his cold nose on my face, Rise and Shine, Woman! is the message, and I hear it loud and clear….along with the mantra that we’ve taught each other, Remember: It’s the Journey, not the Goal. Now, get to it! Thank you my dear, Theodore. Woman’s best friend, indeed.
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