Squints and my family are no longer able to care for Destructo on our own.
Sometimes, raising a service puppy gets old. It’s exhausting, explaining to twelve people in one day about Destructo’s future job; asking people to please, don’t stick your thumb into his mouth like that; asking them to please don’t let him chew your sweatshirt, even if it is old and you don’t like it anyway. Sometimes, people don’t want to hear these things from us. They want to tell us things. They want to tell us his paws are big and his ears are big and he’s going to be tough to give up and I wouldn’t be able to give him up and sometimes all you want to do is just walk away from all this telling.
* * *
The asparagus at the local farm had just gone into season. Perfect for dinner. “Can you come in with me, V? I’ll need help carrying…”
“I’ll stay in the car with Destructo,” Squints said, not looking up from the comic book he was reading.
“No.” I pointed to a brick patio close to where the market sells homemade ice cream. “Take him there so I can see you.”
“I don’t want to take Destructo,” Squints said. “I just want to read for a few minutes.”
“You can read. Just take him with you.”
“No, Mom. If I take the dog then everyone’s going to want to stop and pet him and ask me all kinds of questions.”
“Just tell them that today’s a no petting day.” Some raisers had advised us to use this method so the dog gets used to not being the center of attention all the time.
When V and I came out of the market, a woman was talking with Squints. She had a frown on her face.
“What do you think he’s done now?” I asked V.
The frowning woman walked away and Squints joined us, comic book tucked beneath his arm.
“She wanted to pet Destructo.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her no.”
“She got angry and told me that my job was to socialize the dog. That I was supposed to let her pet him.”
“And I told her today was a no petting day and then she told me that everybody who raises a service puppy seems to have a different philosophy on things.”
Having had Destructo for two short months, I can understand how much frustration people who rely upon service dogs feel. Even if the dog is wearing a jacket or a harness or is clearly labeled in some way, people want to pet it and get angry if they’re denied.
Raising a service puppy is harder than we ever thought it would be.
And yet, we are not raising him alone.
* * *
I’m at the bank opening a checking account for Filibuster. Squints is doing math on the banker’s desk. Destructo is at my feet. I pick up a pen to sign the paperwork and feel Destructo nibbling at one of my shoelaces. Behind me, I hear a man talking to the branch manager.
“Do you know there’s a dog in here?”
“Oh, yes,” the manager says and her voice is proud. “He’s a service dog in training. We just love him.”
And a teller comes up to offer Destructo a dog treat while I sign here…and here…and finally here.
* * *
I’m at the baseball fields, watching the team warm up.
“Hey!” A stranger jogs up to me. “I know that dog. That’s Destructo!”
“Yep,” I say.
“Oh, man. My kids just love that dog.”
And the man jogs away.
* * *
Another time. A different game. A different man says to my husband. “Hey! Wasn’t he just at the bank the other day?” He beams and scratches Destructo behind the ears. “What a terrific dog.”
* * *
Squints and V and I are in the library looking through the book sale.
A three year old runs by. “No doggies in the libary. No doggies in the libary.”
V looks at me and rolls her eyes. We’ve perfected the art of ignoring people who want to tell us the rules.
“Hey.” Behind us a woman approaches the checkout desk. “I just saw that dog in the parking lot. So you let dogs in now?”
V arches an eyebrow at me. We don’t turn around.
“Oh, him? That’s just Destructo. He’s a service dog. You should have seen him when he first came in here.”
“Listen, honey,” the librarian lectures a little girl. “Don’t let him chew on your fingers. He’s a puppy, for goodness sake. Oh, yeah. He’s gonna’ be one big dog.” And her voice, like the voice of the branch manager’s, seems to be flecked with pride, as if she has had a hand in raising this dog called Destructo.
And perhaps she has.
As we struggle to raise this pup, we understand that we can no longer do it on our own. People who’ve become a part of Destructo’s weekly routine: the bankers, the librarians, the medical technicians, the people at the ball fields, want, in some small way, to help: They want to tell others about his future job; they want to tell others not to let him bite; they want to tell others that they need to ask before petting him.
Destructo has never belonged to us, and he never will. But for a short time, while he’s in our care, he does belong to a group of people--people who love him and are pulling for him to succeed despite that fact that his success will mean never seeing him again.
And we are grateful, Squints and I, for that support, for the pulling together around this big, clumsy puppy; for defending our right to bring him into public buildings when they could’ve said no; for making this impersonal suburb suddenly feel like the beginnings of a community.
Labels: Baseball, Community, Culture, Perceptions, Rules, Service Animals