Raising a service dog is a lot like being pregnant. Not that I've ever been pregnant, but people treat you the same way. Everyone smiles at you, holds doors for you, and people you've never met before suddenly become your best friends.
For me, it took a little getting used to. I was never super outgoing at school, but raising a dog requires that you become an ambassador for the program.
I had been thinking about raising a service dog for a while, as I have been involved with Bergin University for years. As a Girl Scout, my troop and I went to pet the puppies there, and that was when I fell in love with these sweet dogs. My Mom raised a service dog named Xuxu.
Wicker slept in my room, came to school with me every day and woke me up in the middle of the night wanting to be petted. My family helped out, but I was the main caretaker. As part of the Puppy Parent program, I was required to attend classes with the other parents every two weeks.
People at school looked at Wicker and simply saw a dog that I got to take to school, but, truthfully, there was a lot of training involved.
Being in the community of Puppy Parents made me more aware of the other amazing things that Bergin does to serve the community. They have a new program called Paws for Purple Hearts that teaches combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to raise service dogs to help their comrades. The dogs they train can help to increase independence for those with physical injuries. I was amazed when I heard about this at Bergin's graduation earlier this year.
But even my small act of taking care of an adult dog, rather than beginning with her as a puppy, has made a huge difference. Wicker was most likely going to be released, but because my family and I began taking care of her, it was decided she would go through training again. They already have a potential client lined up for her.
It will be hard to let her go forever, but the experiences I have had will last a lifetime. For now, I still get to see her on weekends. She comes home to snuggle next to me and play with my other dog, Sirius. Bergin does this as a way to minimize stress on the dogs and make the transition easier for them.
Wicker came to me when I was dealing with some tough things in my life, but raising her gave me perspective outside of my own limited worldview. It's an amazing feeling, knowing that something as simple as taking care of a dog makes such a huge difference.
(Reprinted from the Maria Carrillo High School newspaper, the Puma Prensa.)