This story is set on September 2nd. It has become a special day in our lives. It is the birthday of our oldest. (I say “our” because I have adopted her and her sister in my heart and they bless me with their love.) This year she turned 11! The family decided to spend the day in two places that bring her big smiles, as well as the rest of us. First, we took the trip up to Service Dog Project. This gives Casper the chance to run free and play safely with his dog family and friends. The girls have the chance to play with (oh, excuse me, socialize) the young puppies. I wanted to check in with Carlene and ask her opinion regarding a couple of things. She always gives me straight simple answers and I appreciate that. We also shared stories of vacation. This brought smiles and a scolding. (You may remember Casper sharing how he went swimming?) We were told to NEVER swim with a Dane. “They will drown you! Are you listening to me? Never swim with a Dane! They will get over top of you and hold you under!” Yes Ma’am, we are listening and we learned for ourselves. We will NOT do that again! Consider that a little PSA inside a regular post; directly from the Guru of Service Danes. These types of gems get shared with recipients whether you need them or not.
After we got our SDP fix we headed over to Salem. Yes, That Salem. We enjoy the kitschy tourist trap of it and the history, the surviving architecture, and the waterfront. (OK, maybe the waterfront is more me than the rest of the crew, but they humor me, most of the time.) Prime season doesn’t happen until October, so it was a good time to hit a couple shops and restaurants we enjoy without the crowds. My ulterior motive was to introduce Casper to Salem without the throngs of people. One of the traits I picked up on with him is that when he is in a new environment he is excited to check everything out. This causes him to walk a bit faster and a bit more distracted than I’d like. This is nothing I can’t handle; it is not dangerous for anyone. It’s just that it is more exhausting than usual. Once an area is not brand new he settles in nicely. I like to think of this exploratory mode as Casper’s protective nature on alert. It’s as if he says, “We’ve been here, done this, you’ll be safe.” I’m sure this will wane as he ages so it is not a worry, just a fact. If we didn’t have a bit of a schedule to keep I would have used this as training and done the one-step crawl with him. The fact was we needed to get home at a reasonable time for school the next day. We went about our route exploring, shopping, and greeting.
We proceeded in and out of several shops packed with merchandise, tight corners, and new smells and of course, other patrons. I purposely put us into environments to see what will happen and he does very well. There was one quite small shop where he and I needed to wait, wander and peruse the shelves. Casper did so well navigating without being intrusive to product and customers that the shop attendant commented positively. He said, “I never thought such a big dog could do that. He is so well mannered and hasn’t touched or knocked anything over. Amazing!” I thanked him, and then told him I brought him here, and made him do this because he has never been in this situation before (at least with me) and I needed to see it myself to know what we need to work on. He laughed, and said, “Really? Well he is welcome back.” Truth be told, I’ve had problems in that shop by myself with a cane on similar days!
As we walked on down Essex Street, maneuvering the brick and cobble stone like pros, we were greeted by several folks who commented on us as a team or the ‘Great’ness of our Dane. Some asked to pet, and we made allowances, some just gave a nod and continued. One family, though, was special on this day. This family didn’t call attention to themselves in any way. What made them special to me was their special needs son in a hopped up stroller. Casper was drawn to him and him to Casper. Of course we stopped for this greeting! This was magical in its simplicity. We were walking opposite directions. Casper saw this boy and edged toward him. The boy smiled ear to ear and reached out to Casper. Lauri and I exchanged a few words and allowed our focus to be their son and our pup. So much so, I don’t think we exchanged names. It seemed to me to be a greeting of souls; no words were needed. The boy patted Casper and asked his name several times. We gave the name each time as if it were the first time he asked. In this situation we did not use a secret service name; there seemed no point to me. As far as I was concerned they already knew each other. The entire greeting lasted only moments. Feeling doesn’t need time. I know this. I felt it instantly. It has been several days and I still see the smiles on everyone’s face and the bounce in the step of a dog.
To me, this was a simple account of a day that was meant to be. If Casper hadn’t been with me the day would have been different. I may not have even noticed this family. This is why a Service Dog makes a difference in many more lives than just the handler’s. This was simple, but reminds me why I need to embrace disability. Why I need to blog and why awareness is my new found passion. I don’t know where this path will lead, but with my loving family and a Dane by side I’m excited to find out.