We've been raising service dogs since 2001. That handsome dog on the left is the very first dog we raised: Rocky. He died earlier this year, sadly. He was loved by two families: ours and the family who needed him as a service dog. It was quite a life.
We turned Ike in yesterday to Hero Dogs. He's now onto the second leg of his journey in becoming a service dog. He'll stay with Hero Dogs for another six months or so, receiving advanced training, then he'll go onto be paired with a service man or woman who needs Ike's assistance.
At each turn-in, I think a lot about the dog, naturally. I wonder if we're doing right by the dogs. They didn't sign up to become service dogs. They don't know that when we leave them at the agency, their life changes immediately. It's not like we tell them as puppies "This is just temporary. Don't get used to it. There are big changes for you, buddy."
My husband tried to console me with the thought that NO DOG chooses his home, his people, his environment. Neither do horses. Or cows. Or any animal, really. And he's right. Of course he's right. Transitions are just tough, no matter how you frame them.
It's a grand job, really, being a service dog. I think it's a much better life than the average pet dog has, to be honest. The service dog has a purpose. He's mentally stimulated every single day. He's more than loved, he's needed. He gets to go everywhere with his person. And that's pretty darn cool.
But of course, I'm a little melancholy around turn-in time. It makes me want to invent a way to communicate with Caysun so I can tell her that we've got big things planned for her. That in another year, she, too, will move on from our house (and from our dogs) to a brand new life.
But because I will fail in my quest to invent a new dog-human communication device, I will simply raise Caysun the best I can: give her lots of love, teach her to be flexible, and to enjoy change.
Ike (left) excels at flexibility. That dog is happy anywhere there are people. Or dogs. Or birds. Or wind. Or food. Or…whatever. He'll be happy wherever he lands, as long as there's a friendly hand to pet him.
We bid Ike farewell yesterday. We'll see him again – we've been invited to stop by Hero Dogs whenever we need an "Ikey fix." Which makes us feel good and soothes the sting of turn-in just a little bit.
Like every other service dog we've raised, seeing Ike with his new partner will be the medicine that will cure this melancholy. Rock on, Ikey! We'll see you soon, Boggy Doggy!