By LINDSAY WATERMAN
MARIA CARRILLO HIGH SCHOOL, SENIOR, 17
Raising a service dog is a lot like being pregnant. Not that I’ve ever been pregnant, but people treat you the same way. Everyone smiles at you, holds doors for you, and people you’ve never met before suddenly become your best friends.
For me, it took a little getting used to. I was never super outgoing at school, but raising a dog requires that you become an ambassador for the program.
So I spent a lot of time explaining things — about how it’s stressful and difficult and how giving my service dog, Wicker, back would be so hard, but mostly about how wonderful it was.
And it was wonderful. Choosing to raise a service dog is one of the best decisions I have ever made. When I met Wicker for the first time, my Mom had taken her to school for a day, on the simulation day for “Every 15 Minutes.” Emotions were running high, and I was able to observe firsthand the healing power of simply petting a dog. One of my friends was in tears but calmed down as soon as she saw this sweet little puppy.
So I decided to raise Wicker on my own. I knew her case was different, that her previous owner had dropped out of the program, leaving her alone and bored around the Bergin University offices. Usually a puppy will be raised by a family, then turned in for more intense training with a student who is studying for a degree in one of their programs.
When I met Wicker, she was bored and suffering from separation anxiety. In the first few weeks I had her, she would cry if left alone for too long. I was told she probably wouldn’t graduate but needed a place to live for a while and some company.
I had been thinking about raising a service dog for a while, as I have been involved with Bergin University for years. As a Girl Scout, my troop and I went to pet the puppies there, and that was when I fell in love with these sweet dogs. A few years later, my Mom raised a service dog named Xuxu. I was more exposed to the Puppy Parent programs at this time, and I got used to having another dog around the house. When we gave Xuxu back, it was hard, but she had been another dog who was borderline whether she was going to be accepted into the program. We learned a few weeks ago that Xuxu had been released and is now going to go to a family that wants her as a pet.
Wicker was mine. She slept in my room, came to school with me every day and woke me up in the middle of the night wanting to be petted. My family helped out, but I was the main caretaker. As part of the Puppy Parent program, I was required to attend classes with the other parents every two weeks.
We went on field trips to Coddingtown Mall to see how the dogs behavedand watched a presentation on dog personality to see how well our dogs matched with us. People at school looked at Wicker and simply saw a dog that I got to take to school, but, truthfully, there was a lot of training involved.
Bergin’s dogs are raised and bred to be service dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’re always perfectly behaved. At school, Wicker was calm, sleepy and almost sad-looking, but at home, she ran around like a maniac. In the morning, she would bounce off the walls, wagging her tail and shaking her head over and over. Being in the community of Puppy Parents made me more aware of the other amazing things that Bergin does to serve the community. They have a new program called Paws for Purple Hearts that teaches combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to raise service dogs to help their comrades. The dogs they train can help to increase independence for those with physical injuries. I was amazed when I heard about this at Bergin’s graduation earlier this year.
But even my small act of taking care of an adult dog, rather than beginning with her as a puppy, has made a huge difference. Wicker was most likely going to be released, but because my family and I began taking care of her, it was decided she would go through training again. They already have a potential client lined up for her.
It will be hard to let her go forever, but the experiences I have had will last a lifetime. For now, I still get to see her on weekends. She comes home to snuggle next to me and play with my other dog, Sirius. Bergin does this as a way to minimize stress on the dogs and make the transition easier for them.
Wicker came to me when I was dealing with some tough things in my life, but raising her gave me perspective outside of my own limited worldview. It’s an amazing feeling, knowing that something as simple as taking care of a dog makes such a huge difference.
Reprinted from the Maria Carrillo High School newspaper, the Puma Prensa.