Could Your Child Be a Surfer Dog?

I love this short video because it reminds me of parents and how we so often try to create a child in our image and likeness.  But kids have this confounding way of being themselves, of being quite different from what we’d expected.

Watch this video and then look at your child again.  It will help you see them for who they really are.

And this is an homage to assistance dogs everywhere.

I once raised an assistance dog for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).  Huntington started school in a class of 19 other service-dog wannabes.  After 9 months, most were released from the program and returned to their puppy raisers.  He graduated with the remaining 6 others who made it, one of only 2 to make it as both a service dog and a social dog.  A two-fer!  I was so proud of my boy (OK, I was living vicariously through him, back before I even understood that concept).  And then, drama!

At graduation, as I stood on the stage behind him and his new owner/partner Gary, who was wheel-chair bound at 19 from a motorcycle accident, Huntie turned his back to the audience and sat facing me, staring directly up into my eyes.  I spoke with him telepathically, urging him to settle down and turn around to Gary, but as usual he insisted on his own way (Huntie was a highly non-compliant dog by nature, which is why it was so surprising that he graduated at all) and continued to stare directly into my eyes.  He was clearly telling me something.  It sure seemed like he wanted to come home to us in Concord, running in the fields behind our house, eating raw corn and horse manure (hey, he was a dog), chasing birds and horses.  We did raise him in a dog-heaven environment.  It seemed as if that charming rascal dog was changing his mind about a life of service.  My heart was breaking.

Tears streamed down my face and I struggled to keep from sobbing because I wanted him to come home more than anything in the world…he was my dog first, after all.

I’d raised him from the age of 7 weeks until almost 2 years before returning him to service school.  He went everywhere with me, including MIT.  At the end of each of those 9 months of training, I’d call to see how he was doing and heard the same thing, “I don’t know about this dog.  He’s too independent and smart.  I don’t think he’s going to make it.”  While I was disappointed, deep down I was thrilled because we’d get him back upon his release.  It sure looked like he was going to flunk out when at the last second, his last month there, he seemed to change his mind, get it in gear and did what he needed to do to pass.  Huntie picked Gary (the dogs pick their new partners) and they bonded for 2 weeks before graduation.

At this last moment, at graduation, Huntie was wavering and I knew what to do.

With the heaviest of hearts, like one of those mother birds, I kicked him out of the nest on stage that night by breaking off all eye-contact and telepathy.  It seemed like forever (really only about 10 minutes), but Huntington finally gave up trying to reach me, turned around to face the audience and leaned into Gary’s wheelchair.  He stopped connecting with me completely.  The transfer was made and they left together without so much as a backwards glance from him. I was nearly inconsolable all the way home and am crying now as I recall those powerful emotions filled with deep, deep love, devotion and right action.  And even in the midst of my grief over having lost him forever, I was so proud of my dog and of the conscious choice he made to be of service.

Huntington lived with Gary 7 years and gave him a life.  Together, my golden retriever and his energetic paraplegic partner went swimming, white water rafting, wheelchair hiking and any outdoor thing Gary could think up.  They went to work together each day.  Gary was a counselor for vets suffering from PTSD at a VA Hospital down South and took Huntie along because “you know, those Southern boys love their dogs.”  Huntie’s presence brought about deep healing for so many wounded hearts.

They adored each other and were never separated.  Years later, when Gary came to Boston for a special treatment at MGH, he insisted on leaving Huntington with us overnight, his gift to his partner’s family. Very quickly that working dog reverted to a puppy again, jumping on the beds with Nora like he used to, running around chasing our cat and his old friend Harry, racing into the back fields for some serious dog foraging. He slept with us that night.  It was heaven.  But early the next morning, Huntie was up and waiting at the front door, urgently pacing, eager to get back to Gary, his vacation over and heeding the call to service once again.  He knew full well that Gary needed him and he got very impatient to get back to business.  Their reunion at a local motel was beyond touching.

When Huntie died, after a life of primo service, Gary sent me his ashes.  How’s that for love given and for love’s return?