One Life Changed Many

Casper and Dori conducting their last work training together.

Casper and Dori conducting their last work training together.

Dear Casper,

These past two weeks I have had a great deal of time to ponder and reflect with heartfelt happiness! So much happens in our lives in such a short time; the last six years passed so quickly. It feels like yesterday I was matched with one of the best partners of my life, YOU.  You captured my heart with your big, deep brown eyes, quietly pleasing manner, and incredibly giving spirit. I’ve re-written this entry three times, and what stands out most in all my musings: You had me the first moment you put your head in my lap, and the rest is as they say, history!

Casper and Dori with police officers from the City of Columbia this month.

Casper and Dori with police officers from the City of Columbia this month.

This last year, you and I trained over 500 people in my job  at Able SC throughout South Carolina on disability sensitivity, the ADA, and service animals. We did outreach as well for hundreds more people at various events, too. Along the way, these previous months have been challenging; while loving you totally, I have been torn between gradually having to let go, and wanting to hold on tight, savoring every single second. Impossible to do both simultaneously, I knew it was up to me to take care of you. More recently, it has been hard for you to keep up with my busy schedule, so I have had to make adjustments to how you carry out tasks, and how long you go out with me.

Casper and Dori representing PAALS at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Gala.

Casper and Dori representing PAALS at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Gala.

In late July, the first time I left you home while I went to a function, I had to close the door. I could tell that you didn’t understand, but you were exhausted.  You were standing on the other side of the door; I could hear your paws moving. With tears in my eyes, because you couldn’t see me, I entered our van and left.  When I returned home, you ran to me, tail wagging, as if I had been gone for days, rather than just a couple of hours. You have a harder time doing a “Paws Up” now to give me items, so I have been bending to reach items from you. The signs have been increasing that you are ready to retire.

Dori and Casper(next to me) at the Gala with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Dori and Casper(next to me) at the Gala with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

You are sleeping deeper during the day at work, and you want to lie down when out in public more.  You still desire to go with me, and go to your cape in the mornings. But, I speculate whether you do this out of routine or dedication to me.  You see, service animals like you are a special breed, they desire to do their job, and be with their partners whether they are sick, tired, or even in pain. They put their human partner’s needs above their own. Because I am aware of your giving nature, I have removed the choice for you.  I leave you home on unnecessary outings or trips.  And, I take on more of the physical load for you, now. In early August, I witnessed you starting to shift some of your bond to my husband, Bryan, by lying closer on his pillow and chest during your “bed cuddle time,” multiple times. I’ll admit, I was a bit heartbroken…not because I was jealous of Bryan. Instead, it struck me the time was arriving and you, in your own, unknowing way, have been preparing me.

Casper and Dori celebrating his retirement with Able SC co-workers.

Casper and Dori celebrating his retirement with Able SC co-workers.

For those who have been following our journey, they know I love YOU and PAALS unequivocally! This summer, we took the next step down the path of your retirement. Because the next dog will be a successor, PAALS wanted to see how you would handle another taking over your role. We had several visits from prospective successor dog candidates.  It was both informative, and at the same time, nostalgic.  Fondly, I flashed back to going through the process with you, yet inside I was relieved because I came to find out that as strong as our bond has grown, that you were prepared to change roles. Your happiness is my highest priority, and had you not been accepting of a successor, I would have retired you without pursuing getting another service dog until you grew comfortable.

Happy Retirement, Casper!

Happy Retirement, Casper!

But the gentleman that you are, you let me know through the visits, you were ready to change your position from service dog to veteran service dog, because your service will continue in another capacity, mentor.  I haven’t shared this with anyone yet, not even in front of you, but after the last dog visit, I cried for fifteen minutes because after months of agonizing over the decision to retire you, you showed me it was “your time” to stop working, and everything was going to be okay. For those like you, who have been wondering what happens next for you, you are going to live with us as a pet, and you will be collecting your 401K. 🙂

Casper enjoying his retirement party!

Casper enjoying his retirement party!

As Fall is emerging, I am extremely excited as I just received notice from PAALS that I have been invited to team training for my successor service dog. One chapter of my service dog collaboration is closing, yet another thrilling one is beginning.  You and I will forever love each other, and now our family will hopefully, share that love and bring another member into the fold.  A journey between us that began six years ago has been filled with abundant joy, unconditional love, and a deep, never-ending connection that I wish all people could experience in their lives and partnerships, whether they be with humans or animals. You taught me many things; the most important being live life to the fullest, be free of regret, and partake in all activities with passion and zest!  To honor the boundless dedication you inspire, I ask our friends, family, and supporters to please help us celebrate your retirement, and join us as our next adventures start by following in the memories of a new PAALS Partnership!

Exciting adventures and surprises have awaited us these past two final weeks.  First, we had our last training together on employment for a state agency. We did our monthly training on disability sensitivity for the City of Columbia Police Department. You and I were photographed by award winning fashion photographer, Rick Guidotti for Positive Exposure Photo Expo in the Upstate in November.  Rick worked in NYC, Milan and Paris for a variety of high profile clients including Yves St Laurent, Revlon, L’Oreal, Elle, Harpers Bazaar and GQ. Positive Exposure utilizes photography, film and narrative to transform public perceptions of people living with genetic, physical, intellectual and behavioral differences.  Their educational and advocacy programs reach around the globe to promote a more inclusive, compassionate world where differences are celebrated. You and I got to represent PAALS at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Gala where we chatted with the gracious, Mayor Steve Benjamin, whom we met two years ago when we did the City’s ADA Accessibility Assessment and ADA Disability Sensitivity training for all city employees with Able SC. 

Positive Exposure Photoshoot with Rick!

Positive Exposure Photoshoot with Rick!

Your career as my service dog is coming to an end today, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Our co-workers at Able SC threw you a retirement party this week, reminding us just how much you are loved. They even posted it on their Facebook page, with people from the community commenting on your impact on them.  I hope you know you made a difference in so many lives!  You and I have decided to end your career by doing what you’ve always done; educating others. We are going to your service dog friend, Roberta’s school, and read to the students in her class.  How appropriate; starting where we began, two beings trying to change the world for the better by helping others! 

Jen and I during Casper's training.

Jen, Casper, and I during Casper’s training.

Casper, our partnership was made possible by several people. Thank you for all of the support and encouragement we have received this last year, and the previous five from everyone at PAALS, in our personal lives, and in the community!  Casper and I would like to thank the “special” women in his life. To the woman who still turns Casper’s head, six years later, Jen; no matter where we are, when you come in a room, Casper turns his head to look at you, and when you acknowledge him with a smile or glance, as he is working, I see the love and incredible bond you two will always share! Thank you for your patience with me, and training one of the greatest gifts I have ever received! To the woman who got us through our challenges as a team, Sheri J., your positivity as well as guidance helped us grow stronger as a team; thank you for being a shining light and wonderful PAALS Liaison to us! To Sue P., thanks for always cheering us on!  To the woman who named Casper, Margaret; the name suits him perfectly, he is the friendliest of dogs.  To his canine Mama, Reba, Jamie, her owner, and Guiding Eyes for the Blind, without all of you, there would be no Casper and our powerful partnership would never have happened; thank you so much for your friendship!  Thank you to everyone at Able SC, five years at an amazing job with terrific co-workers who always supported me and Casper!

Casper enjoying his first morning not going to work, and rolling in the grass, Thursday.

Casper enjoying his first morning not going to work, and rolling in the grass.

Lastly, to my other fabulous partner in life; Bryan, your selflessness throughout our relationship, and your encouragement this last year as well as the past two weeks as Casper changes roles in my life has allowed us to keep smiling through waves of sentimental memories. You helped me to reflect on how one life changed so many, and thousands have been touched by one amazing canine who influenced the view of disability, people’s perceptions of individuals  with disabilities as independent beings, and service dogs as effective tools and reasonable accommodations for the better!

You had me with your head in my lap, and eyes gazing in mine, and always will!

You had me with your head in my lap, and eyes gazing into mine, and you always will!

A SPECIAL THANK YOU, TO THE ONE WHO MAKES ME FEEL INCREDIBLY LUCKY, YOU!!!! HAPPY RETIREMENT!!! I LOVE YOU!!

Your Other Half,

Dori