Someone who knows how much of a dog lover I am, said, “No way! You will never be able to do that!!!” But they were wrong.
I’ve always had a dog. My last dog, Jake a Golden, was a special boy! I lost him to cancer four years ago. I wasn’t ready to get a new puppy; there was still a hole in my heart. Several years before when Jake and I were “wintering” in Florida I met a woman who was fostering for ECAD. I had never heard of the organization but was intrigued by what she was doing. At the time, I told her “I would never be able to give a puppy back after fostering it for six months.”
I remembered that conversation after I lost Jake and researched ECAD. As a result, I decided to become a “weekend home handler.” This solution meant I could enjoy a dog on weekends, but not become too attached, while also volunteering for a good cause. I went to their two-day class and learned what they expected of me while Service Dogs in training were in my care. This seemed like a wonderful idea for me and hopefully for ECAD as well. My first dog assignment was Gunner. He was a beautiful Golden, so well behaved, housebroken and sweet. There was absolutely no transition period. He came into my home, took 15 minutes to sniff around and get to know this new environment, and voila.... he seemed right at home! I was a weekend home handler for a while and took home more than 18 different dogs over a period of time.
One August evening my husband and I decided to attend an ECAD graduation since I had previously had several of the graduating dogs at my home for weekends. It was an amazing evening seeing these deserving folks matched up with their Service Dogs. I was overcome with pride knowing I was a part of this process. Just before we were ready to leave, one of the trainers approached me to ask if I would be willing to become part of their nursery team. This wasn’t the first time I was asked, but this time there was a corral of adorable seven-week-old yellow lab and golden mix puppies in the room. She said, I have the perfect puppy for you, and she handed me Sugar. He wrapped his sweet paws around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. My husband looked at me with a look of “uh oh, she will not be able to resist.” And I couldn’t. At 8 weeks old, Sugar came home with us toting food and a booklet of instructions. That night I had a conversation with myself about how I needed to approach this challenge of becoming a temporary mom to this sweet little guy. I went into this knowing Sugar was not my forever puppy. I was going to have to train him, love him, care for him and prepare him for a life po of service. I knew I would become attached, but that was OK because it was going to be my way of “giving back”. It felt good to contribute my time and energy to this quality organization. We had Sugar for 9 months (a bit longer than usual because of COVID).
Admittedly, I may not have been the best nursery mom… I spoiled him a bit but I definitely held true to most of the important constants Sugar needed to begin his “real training.”
Today, Sugar at 22 months old has come full circle; he is graduating from ECAD. He has been paired with a 7-year-old girl.
This world we live in has so many challenges. Some of us are luckier than others. For me, volunteering my time to help folks live a better life and feel more independence in their daily routine has been a meaningful opportunity to “pay it forward.”
Want to get involved? Learn more about volunteer opportunities!