Have you ever been so excited, yet terrified at the same time? When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, it is like wearing an old, comfortable pair of slippers; they bring you ease and warmth. I’ve been with Casper almost six years, he knows me like the back of his paw. We understand each other’s moods, needs, and anticipate the other’s moves. If he could, Casper would probably finish my sentences for me. That’s what good partners do…
So, imagine the feelings I experienced knowing he was slowing down, and readying for retirement. On the exterior, I may have appeared calm, for his sake, but inside, I felt trepidation because I knew I still need a service dog to maintain my independence, and Casper and I were finally in what I call the “comfort zone.” We have gelled so well, and it’s as though we read each other’s minds. I know the weight of this transition for Casper lies solely on my shoulders; he needs to understand I love him, and that he will always be my priority, while gradually introducing a potential new partner and canine friend into our lives. He is not a human being, so we cannot have a conversation, explaining the process to him. Casper loves me in such a deep, giving way, that I realize the balance and timeframe of his retirement has to be carried out thoughtfully, as well as with compassion.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to go on my first blind dates with possible PAALS successor dogs. It reminded me of an episode of “The Bachelor” or if you’re old school as I am, “The Dating Game.” Like all of us when we go on a first date, I was very nervous and full of enthusiasm. Wondering what he or she would look like, would we get along, and am I ready for this new adventure, Casper and I set out for the PAALS training facility in Columbia. Casper was pumped because he loves his friends at PAALS. Honestly, he does not understand, but I do, so I kept my smile big and bright. When we arrived, Casper was immensely overjoyed because he got to hang with Jen, PAALS Executive Director, who was also his trainer, as well as Rosie, her dog, with whom he spent his formative years being trained in her home. He felt he was at his home away from home, and once he took his cape off, went off to play happily.
I anxiously went to the training room, knowing my guy was contently playing in another area. Now, as all Southerners know, discretion is a must when meeting potential suitors, so for the benefit of my dates, names will not be shared. 😀 Also, where is the fun in the final reveal if we give away all of the details in the beginning? My first date was brought out to meet me…
He came out and was warm, the color of the sun, and regal. We got the chance to mingle and then, we started with some basic cues. I was quite impressed as he was calm and listened as I delivered each one. He even put up with me being slow, or dropping the treats. That’s a patient service dog… 🐶 Understand, I messed up some of the cues, as even though I’ve had three service dogs, my current one being from PAALS; I was extremely amped and wanted to impress the dogs as much as they impressed me. Nerves kick in on all first dates, even if they are with canines.
The second cutie pie was unique for me, a female. You know I’m the only one who has had three boyfriends and a husband. 😀 This date had lots of energy, much like myself. I had to modify my energy level to be calmer, as sometimes, too much excitement from both parties is not always a good thing when carrying out tasks. This raven beauty with boundless energy made me work hard, and kept me on my wheels…(wheelchair talk for toes. 😀) Together, we worked hard and got through our basic obedience cues, and even had time for a quick cuddle.
My third date reminded me of a sunflower because she blossoms and holds steadfastly strong. She was cuddly, determined, and a ball of quiet energy. Going through her cues, her eyes were transfixed on me. Even when I dropped some treats, she patiently waited. She rested her head on my footplate during bonding time. As dates go, this one had lots of affection. 🐶
We took a little break, and I waited for my final two dates to arrive. As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking, “Could this get any better?” And, you know what? It sure did!! 😀
My handsome, warm-hearted fifth date arrived, and he bowled me over with his wit as well as boyish charm. Making me smile while I was so nervous, really soothed me. He decided he wanted to engage me when he came in, so he put his paws on my footrests, and posed with me, like we were taking a selfie, or as Casper likes me to call them, a woofie. If dogs are in the picture, woofs are awesome. 🐶 Much to my delight, he too, followed the cues, and heeled alongside me. What a fun suitor; he even made me laugh when I made the error, and said, “Yay!” instead of “Yes” after a sit cue. “Sorry, Jen!!” 😀
The last and final date comes out and carefully takes me in, examining me as well as my power wheelchair. He good-naturedly follows my cues, like a knight wielding a sword, elegantly. He carefully walked beside my wheelchair and listened attentively to my requests. This one, secretly, reminded me of Casper, cautious at first, but diligent in his duties. As he got more comfortable, he let me cuddle him, and bond with him. Sometimes, slow and steady is just as important as instant gratification.
Alas, our dates ended, and my suitors had to leave, and I was asked to mindfully examine which dogs would work well for me, as possibilities. Had I sterilized dog bones, rather than roses, each dog would have received one. You see, I truly could see the strengths each dog possesses. Each would add a new dimension to my life. I’m not looking to replace Casper, as that would be impossible! Rather, I’m seeking to find the partner that would be happy working for me, and comfortable in my lifestyle, and actively helping others in the community. That could take months, or maybe, even a year. Time doesn’t matter, when happiness on both sides; canine, and human, prevails. 😀 Being that this was just the first round of blind dates, I’m sure many more are to come, and we will keep you updated. Thanks PAALS Trainers, Nick, Maureen, and Jen for being patient while this old dog, (me), learns some new tricks!🐶