First Impressions: True Tales From The Road-A Dog’s Devotion

Bek on deck (10.10)

Not often enough, we are granted the opportunity to observe selfless kindness in the actions of loving and spirited people. During my second week of driving, I accepted a ride that was timed at sixteen minutes but would last almost an hour.
Responding to a pick-up request at a Wal-Mart, I arrived to find a middle aged man and woman waiting in front of the exit doors with two full shopping carts of purchased goods, a microwave oven and a dog. I pulled up close to the curb and recognized the vest resting on the back of a beautiful, black Lab. She was a seeing-eye dog.
My heart sank instantly. My thoughts and feelings rushed back to a time a few years prior when I lost my black Lab mix, Sobek, to cancer at the age of eleven and half years.
Back in early 2001, the company I worked for began to liquidate their stores. My position as District Manager was removed but luckily I was kept on to close the stores in my surrounding area. No longer required to drive out of state and spend countless nights away from home, I was finally able to adopt a puppy and provide it the time and care it required. I awoke one Saturday morning and made my way to the local shelter. As if ordering a number four combo in a drive-thru, I asked for a black Lab puppy. The woman arched an eyebrow and replied that I was in luck as a litter of eight pups, just two months old, had just been dropped off.
For the next eleven and a half years, Sobek spent many warm Florida days swimming in the pool in endless pursuit of a floating and mostly, indestructible dog toy. Tired from hours of swimming and playing, he slept at the foot of my bed, every night.
While my responsibilities as a driver included tasks specifically behind the wheel, my duties as a fellow human being to those who may require assistance knew few limits. I parked the car and greeted the couple. The intelligent Lab moved the woman to the car door and she very capably found the handle. I turned my attention to the man who seemed to have a similar sight disability but to a slightly lesser degree. Regardless, I assisted and placed the abundant bags of food and household items into my trunk. It took some time but the carts were emptied and I wedged the microwave oven behind my seat with the gentleman beside it.
Once back in the car, I found the woman seat-belted in the passenger seat with the black Lab at her feet; only her big, brown inquisitive Labrador eyes peering up at me.
Having worked in the pet industry, I knew the rules and so did the dog. While wearing the vest, she was working and was not to be approached or touched from anyone besides her handler. I therefor resisted my urge to reach out and scratch her adorable muzzle.
The woman began a direct, verbal exchange with the man in the backseat.
“Do you have the microwave?”
The man‘s arm was resting on the large metal oven as he replied. “Yup, right here.”
“We got a good deal on the display model.” The woman proudly bragged to me.
“Did you pick up the prescriptions?” The woman asked turning her attention back to her companion.
“Yes, all of them.” He replied. In anticipation of her follow up question, he stated, “And, I confirmed our appointment with the doctor tomorrow at eleven a.m.”
Satisfied that her mental checklist had been reviewed, the woman beamed a wide, pleased smile. “You take such good care of me.”
The man nodded and countered with, “We take care of each other.”
Despite their short conversation, their love was palpable. I instantly understood their strong commitment to one another as they worked together to ensure each other’s well-being.
Directed by the GPS in my phone, I began the drive to the couple’s home and couldn’t help but recall Sobek as I glanced down at the loving, curious eyes of the dog. Without being asked, I told the woman about Sobek and my wonderful time with him. In response, she began to describe some of the service dogs that she had owned during her life. There may have been more, but she told me of four.
While it made sense after hearing it, I had not realized that the owners would keep the seeing-eye dogs after their service time had ended. Indeed, they are very much their pets, despite their servitude. I guess I assumed that they either were service dogs for their entire life or they went up for adoption after their service time ended; no longer of use to the individual in need of their assistance. My assumption was another limited, small-minded moment.
Her lab remained still for the duration of the ride. I continued to resist the urge to rub that greying muzzle with my hand and respected the request clearly printed on her vest.
The woman described her past service dogs in fond reflection. Her first was also a Lab, but a yellow male called, Sammy. He had since passed away at the age of thirteen. Unfortunately, the bigger dogs often don’t have the longevity of life that the smaller dogs possess. Next, was a small Samoyed mix called, Shadow. She described a fluff of hair atop short legs that she was told was white as snow. Her most recently retired dog was a Golden Retriever named Daisy. An extremely smart dog, she told me that Daisy would, without fail, anticipate her needs without command. Finally, she introduced the pooch at her feet, Sugar. At the mention of her name, her big, brown, expectant eyes turned to her handler and awaited direction.
During my almost twelve years in the pet industry, I learned a great deal about animal care. In fact, that was literally part of my position’s title. The majority of the company’s business was generated from the dog food and supplies departments. That dictated that the bulk of the internal training would be focused on canine care.
The best part of my job was touring stores and meeting the visiting pet parents and their canine companions. With three dogs of my own during my time in the industry, my heart carved a very large space for their well-being. Admittedly, I struggled with the use of dogs as service animals. On one side, I understood the benefit of their training and the use of their minds to mitigate the disability of their owner. In the case of my passenger, Sugar led her safely through crowded stores to deter her from tripping or walking into a display or other people. Sugar was very much her eyes and she trusted her implicitly.
Alternately, I wondered about the quality of life of a typical service-dog. Sugar was a healthy looking, two-year old Lab with a shiny coat and clean, white teeth. She appeared very well cared for, but what of her needs outside of her role? I had learned that dogs require more than just food and water. Exercise and socialization are paramount in fostering a happy, well-behaved and responsive pet. Additionally, we cannot forget the specific function of the domesticated breed that we, by design, instilled in them.
For example, while playing fetch with certain breeds is an hour or so of fun for us, it is behaviorally vital to those breeds named for that purpose. Sugar is a Labrador Retriever. Her very name defines her singular focus. Labs are social and loving and very much the perfect pack dog. They are too happy to be in charge and too big and strong to bring up the rear. Finding their comfort zone in the middle of the pack, they are known to thrive mentally and psychologically while in the frequent company of other dogs.
My personal opinions whirling through my mind ended when we arrived to the couple’s home. I backed the car up to their door as instructed. The woman found her way out of my car and, with Sugar’s direction, up the rock walkway to her front door. After shuffling his way along the same path, the man retrieved a rolling cart from inside the house and slowly wheeled it to the trunk. He filled it with his bags and my offer to carry the microwave oven inside was graciously accepted. I walked into their home and placed the oven on a kitchen counter top. The house was dark and I could barely see. All of the window treatments were closed but after a second or two, my brain understood the why.
I turned to say good-bye and found the woman standing beside her sofa with a broad smile on her face as she asked me if I would like to meet her pups.
Yes, please!
With one command, three dogs came running into the home from the opened backdoor. First was Shadow, the fluffy Samoyed mix. He found his way to me instantly and barked playfully at my feet. The Golden Retriever and Lab, Daisy and Sugar, entered as a pair. Sugar had apparently made quick use of the backyard for a bathroom break and was reunited with her retriever gal-pal. After a quick sniff around me they launched themselves into playful glee in the couple’s living room. With her vest removed, Sugar was now off the clock and indulging her breed’s social inclination to play with her fellow retriever. Big, healthy, active dog noises filled the house. The joy beamed from the woman’s face as she listened to the soft, playful growls and howling barks of the dogs while they tussled about her living room.
It was abundantly clear that when they wore their vests, they intently, loyally and solely worked for her. The dogs provided her care and direction while ensuring safety and support. When the vests were removed, they were full throttle dogs. The woman fostered a loving home where the pups played and were well cared for in exchange for their love and support. Watching the woman beam with joy at the sounds of her playful pack, it was obvious that she loved them, whether they were at work or play.
I turned and noticed that the man was feeling his way through his kitchen as he put away the groceries. He carefully felt and identified each item and ran his fingers along the cabinets until he found its place. I observed that only the bottom shelves were utilized and the newly purchased, unopened boxes of food were placed behind opened ones.
The woman felt her way along the back of the couch until she found herself in front of the sofa and sat in what I assumed was her favorite and familiar spot. She raised both her arms and cupped her hands in front of her. I watched, unsure as to what she was doing. Within seconds, the man, smiling ear to ear, presented her with a hot cup of tea that he had warmed in the recently purchased microwave. The woman boasted a wide smile at retrieving her beverage and her glee illuminated the darkened room.
“Thank you, Sweetie.” She sang as she smelled the aroma wafting from her cup.
“My pleasure, baby.” The man replied and felt his way back to the kitchen to continue putting the groceries away.
I wondered how many times he had prepared for her a cup of tea. A hundred? A thousand? Yet, the act was still executed with his loving pleasure and she continued to find joy in a simple, hot drink.
It stood to reason that their quality of life and safety was dependent on routine regarding where they walk, sit and place their personal items. However, their care and love for each other and their pets demonstrated a deep affection that I believe was primarily performed out of love, rather than necessity.
Sugar broke free of the rough-housing long enough for me to finally scratch her slightly grey muzzle. I saw my own Lab in her big, brown eyes and my own watered at the overwhelming display of the couple’s devotion to each other and the sweet, unconditional love and support of their dogs.
You’ve just read chapter three of First Impressions: True Tales From The Road by Gare Allen. Click below for the entire book:

FirstImpressionscover

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