Thursday, April 3, 2014

Service Dogs as Companions and Friends

Yesterday I went into my bedroom to put away some laundry and Isaac followed me, as he usually does.  He jumped up on the bed and I lay down on the bed beside him.  He snuggled right up to me, with his head resting in the crook on my arm, and fell right to sleep.

As I lay there with him for a while, I thought about my relationship with Isaac.

When I read newspaper articles or news accounts or just stories online about service dogs, they often talk about how a service dog will be a beloved companion or a constant friend for someone with a disability, especially when talking about service dogs for children, like those with autism.  Of course, being a friend or companion is not a trained task, and if that's all a dog does for something, then it is not a service dog.  The media often seems to forget that, or at least, fails to report it.

When I decided I wanted to get a service dog, I assumed I'd love the dog.  I love animals.  It's hard to imagine living with an animal that I didn't love.  It's hard to imagine not growing to love any animal that I live with. 

But Isaac and I were not best friends instantly.  Maybe that happens for some people, but it wasn't the case for us.  He liked me a lot right away, but he likes everyone right away.  He loves the UPS guy.  He loves the pharmacist, the cashier at Kroger and the lady that works at the post office.  And I liked Isaac right away, because he's so friendly and loving and loveable and funny and it would be hard not to like him.  But I didn't fall in love with him right away and I didn't feel like we were best friends right away.

I think it took about a year for us to bond really solidly.  I don't know if that's typical of people with service dogs or not.  But the type of bond we have now, that didn't happen instantly.  It didn't happen quickly.

As I was lying on the bed with Isaac, stroking his head, listening to his doggie snores, I thought about how odd it is, really, that this dog gets trained to perform certain tasks and then is matched up with a person and expected to become that person's best friend as well as being some sort of living durable medical equipment that will serve this person day and night.  And yet, it works.  That's the really amazing thing.

I'm so aware that Isaac didn't really get a choice.  No one asked him, "Hey, would you like to be a service dog when you grow up?"  But they did identify that he had character traits that would make a good service dog and that he enjoyed learning tasks and performing them.  He does enjoy the work that he does.  But he didn't get to pick where he lives, or who he lives with, or what tasks he would be asked to do.

Maybe that's part of why I am so, so careful to make sure Isaac is happy, that his needs are being met.

But also, he is my friend.  Part of why he likes working for me - and I really believe he does - is because he just likes hanging out with me.  He wants to go where I go.  He wants to be with me.  Good grief, he scarcely lets me go to the bathroom by myself.

I don't know if I'm making sense here.  It's just incredible to me, this friendship that has developed between me and this dog.  And I'm not even a dog person.  I tell people that.  I say I'm an Isaac person, not a dog person.


  1. I'm sure you must know that dogs are faily orented. You are his family. He has bonded to you the way dogs typically bond with their humans.

    1. I'm sure that's the case. He has bonded to me. And yeah, dogs are very social creatures and want to belong to a group. We're just a small group. Or pack, or whatever.

  2. Rudy and I were so close, it was hard to imagine him bonding so deeply with someone else. Dogs have such a large heart and they never forget. Getting Rudy home over Thanksgiving last year was magical, and then again over Christmas. Seeing how happy he was to see me, and then how happy he was to head back to the kennel life when I dropped him off made me realize that he LOVES working. I can not wait to see how happy he is with his new owner. It likely will make me cry, and I am sure that their relationship will develop much like yours Kelly. Its not an instant relationship, much like any other, it needs to be developed over time. Trust forming between both you and the dog!