By: Linda Pelfrey
Today, Abby, a Yellow Lab Golden Retriever mix, and I are celebrating our first anniversary as a dog guide team.
I have benefitted from 7 incredible and unique pups from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey. Each has left their paw prints on my heart and I have learned transforming life lessons with every new canine partnership. All of my past furry companions left behind funny and heartwarming stories which are now memories of comfort.
So…how did Miss Abby’s story begin?
As I recall our first day in training together, I realize how far we have come as a working team.
No matter what task a service dog performs for a handler with a disability, teamwork is key to a successful partnership. Training is physically rigorous and sometimes emotionally exhausting for the person and the dog has to adjust to one more transition. Abby (like other service dogs) said goodbye to her puppy raiser family and then her trainer, with whom she had bonded over several months. Now, here I was giving her commands and accidently tripping on her paws as we learned to walk together. It is like dancing—every partner is unique and it takes time and practice to move gracefully as one.
Two weeks of training together is just the beginning of the process of bonding and learning to trust one another.
Abby quickly adjusted to work at Goodwill Easter Seals and Saturdays spent serving in our church’s food pantry. I soon learned that there is the “in harness” Abby who works with precision and focus. Then, there is the playful Abby who loves hugs and throws her numerous toys all over the living-room floor and doesn’t pick them up. 🙂
Abby’s trainer spoke of the “paychecks,” these pups earn daily. It isn’t money of course – rather, it is whatever they enjoy that strengthens connection and enhances a desire to work with a human partner. For Abby, her “pay,” is all the hugs and snuggles she can get from me and all of her numerous “people friends.”
Abby’s story is just beginning and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds as we discover new adventures as a service dog team.