Team training is done. Ben and I are now officially a service dog team. We passed our Public Access Test and the Heeling Allies Team Training
Test Review. One of the things that was so special about this past week was not only did I spend time with Ben but I spent time with one of his trainers and the director of Heeling Allies, Darcie. Heeling Allies is one of the only programs that travels with the service dog to their new handlers homes. Darcie met my family and extended family, saw my hometown, met my therapist, saw my parent’s home and my apartment and met Shona and Mandalay.
I had many conversations with Darcie ranging from dogs to all other subjects including the challenges in my life. I came to a new understanding and one that will probably continuously change about what impact Ben will have in my life. I knew Ben would not enter my life as a perfect dog. There is no such thing just as there is no such thing as a perfect person but I also had no idea of the skills he would have nor did I have any idea of the complexities that are that of a service-dog/handler relationship.
Ben and I are a team. I knew this from the beginning – “Oh yes we will be a team. Yes, yes I know’ – but honestly I had no idea what this could even begin to look like. I see a peek now. Ben is my comforter and in turn I am his. He helps me relieve my stress and I help relieve his stress. We nurture each other emotionally. Each day I will rely on him to go to work and he will rely on me to give everyday a fighting chance. No easy way outs. No short cuts.
Perhaps this is what I had not fully grasped although I think I thought I had. Ben is more than just a commitment or a signature on a safety contract. He is mine. He relys on me. He needs me and I need him. I haven’t felt needed in many years. I have stayed alive (at times reluctantly) but failed to see how I was needed. And you know what I was completely fine with not being needed. Not being needed meant that I was exspendable and I found comfort in that thought as horrible as that may be. But now? I’m not expendenable. I have a bond with this dog that I have never felt for anyone or anything else. I don’t know where that bond came from. From that moment in the airport when I saw Ben trotting beside Darcie’s side I felt like a piece of me was suddenly being fitted back together. And for me this is really big. I picture myself as one big puzzle that has strewn pieces about everywhere by my own carelessness, by other’s cruelty or some other cosmic reason. I knew (although I did not have the words) that Ben is one of those puzzle pieces. One that I have needed but never had nor even knew I needed.
And that puzzle piece? Well, he’s sleeping here beside me as I write this. Today we ventured out into the world without the knowledge that Darcie would be waiting for us later in the evening. I felt like I was learning how to walk again except it didn’t feel like something I had never done before but something that I had been waiting for. It’s hard make no mistake. Handling a service dog is no easy task and I am sure we will make many mistakes but I am letting Ben be my teacher. And I am trying to trust.
I haven’t trusted anyone completely 100% for many, many years but Ben is asking for that trust. He is asking me to rely on his training and trust that even through our mistakes he will continue to be at my side. How can I believe that? How can I take that leap to look at another being and say I know you aren’t going to leave me. You aren’t going to purposely hurt me. You love me with no conditions. I don’t know exactly how or when I will get fully there but I am determined to try and trust this dog completely.
You see my life depends on it. In order to keep living I must learn to trust those closet to me. Trust them to carry some of my emotions, fears, dreams and struggles. And it starts with this big, black sweetheart of a dog.