"How Could I Not Raise a Service Dog?"
It's the number one question I am asked as a puppy raiser for SSD. How long do you raise them? How much do they pay you? How can I get involved? And both my most frequently asked and the most heart wrenching: How can you give them up?
Before our first dog was placed, all I could say was, "I don't know but it will be worth it." Now that we have said our goodbyes and our boy has started the life he was meant for, my first thought is “Don’t cry.” And I usually say, “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.” The truth of the matter is that it is extremely hard to give up your dog. You try to tell yourself they never belonged to you, but after 18 months of training and cuddles and puppy kisses, they certainly feel like your dog.
The question I am always waiting for, but rarely asked, is why? Some raisers do this as a way to teach their child about volunteerism, or because they want to make a change in someone's life, or because they love dogs, or because they love the mission of SSD. Our reasons were originally far more selfish: I found myself on an impossible phone call one day while living in Portland, Oregon. Three thousand miles away, my best friend had received potentially terrifying news from her doctors. "They are talking about the big C," she whispered—cancer. We couldn't even say the word. It was one of those moments where the world came to a screeching yet silent halt, the kind you find yourself gripping the counter so you don't go flying off. A moment you know will affect you in a profound way, but one you have no control over.
I'm the type of person who likes to have control over the every possible detail, so I found myself bargaining with God, Buddha, the universe, anyone and everyone who would listen. I was doing dozens of good deeds each day, from holding doors for the person who's about 30 feet out of appropriate door holding range, to moving slugs into shadier spots on the side walk, to giving out money and granola bars to homeless people. I seized every opportunity, reaping almost instant reward - no one had better luck than me. But what I was hoping for was some karma to be sent back east to my best friend.
When my husband and I moved back to PA, we started raising for SSD, hoping that fundamentally changing the life of a person in need would provide the necessary cosmic debt to reverse my friend’s ill-boding omens. I was handed a chubby ball of fluff, a licking machine named SSD London. I could outline how much and why I love SSD London in great detail, but this story isn't about falling in love – it’s about finding incredible satisfaction among equally incredible heartbreak. When I dropped him off at the kennel on the final night before Team Training, I cried the whole way there and sobbed the whole way back. I had prepared myself for the pain that would come with being raiser, even cautioning myself that it would be worse than I imagined. And it was. So. Much. Worse.
But a funny thing happened over the next two weeks as I watched my dog fall in love with his new partner. Just hearing the stories about them absolutely wasn't enough. I still thought, "It's impossible for someone to love him more than I do." But the moment I saw her, the newest love of London's life, sleeping on “my” dog, was the moment I truly understood he was never my dog.We were lucky enough to share a meal with London’s forever family and hear all their hopes and concerns about bringing a new dog into their life, one for which they had been waiting for over four years. At the end of the night I kissed my boy goodbye and wished them well, and once again sobbed the whole way home.
Since then we've kept in touch. I have been able to watch London give his partner a whole new life - new freedoms, new responsibilities, and new dreams. I have watched other teams stop seizures, help with walking, and open doors both literally and figuratively. Every interaction between dog and partner has been worth the tears I shed when I said goodbye. When I am at my wit’s end or feeling discouraged, I cling to the knowledge that I have made a real and lasting positive impact on someone's life.
The night we learned that London would be starting Advanced Training was also the night I received a text message with a picture of my friend's clean bill of health. By that time we had started a new journey with a second dog. My friend was sure to thank us for raising them, citing our dogs as the reason for her good karma.And so we give up "our" dogs. We raise them for the friend I couldn't help and for the family we could. For the mission statement. For the community of raisers, sitters and huggers. For the opportunity to teach about giving. For a shorter waiting period for the next partner. For another dog in the house. For the opportunity to change a life. So in the end, the answer to that constant “How” question is just another question. How could I not?
Join Meghan and Susquehanna Service Dogs for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community on May 16.
Event DetailsWhen Saturday, May 16 On-site registration starts at 7:45 a.m. 5K Walk begins at 9 a.m. One-Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m. Where Harrisburg Area Community College 1 HACC Drive Harrisburg, PA 17110 Registration Sign up for the walk