We see so many videos and hear so many stories of service dogs doing incredible things for the person they devote their life to helping. We watch them accomplish complex tasks, calm children down, alert family members and save lives. We listen to the incredible stories of individuals who accomplished amazing feats through the partnership of their service dog, and watch brilliant opportunities arise for human/service dog teams which they may otherwise never have had.
The unwavering devotion that these dogs have to their person is touching and perhaps even surpasses human comprehension in some ways. Although it is inarguable that the capabilities of these pups are incredible, they are not born like this. Service dog training is a highly demanding and complex profession, requiring a great deal of skill, patience, expertise and understanding. Every case is very different, and these trainers need to customize a dog to instinctively do anything that their human is not capable of doing themselves.
We asked our fantastic service dog trainer, Carlos, for an inside look at what it was like to deliver a service dog to its new family after a year or more of meticulous daily training, accomplishments and unforgettable shared experiences.
This is his story.
It may feel like “Goodbye,” but we will always keep in touch.
As a service dog trainer, I have placed seemingly countless service dogs with their forever family. To this day, I still cry every time. At 48 years old and 6’5”, it may surprise some that it continues to impact me so emotionally. Not many people get to see the process of training a service dog, and everything that goes into this training. Spending one or more years with each service dog to be, virtually on a daily basis – watching their skills develop, working through trials, teaching them to become the dog that their human needs them to be – results in each pup feeling like a member of the family.
Eventually the day will come when it is time for them to go, and this leaves me with a plethora of conflicting emotions. It is always quite sad for me because part of my family is leaving, but it contradictorily always leaves me full of happiness
because this family member has become an incredible service dog. I can always remember when they were just a puppy, and how proud I felt every time they accomplished something new. This little puppy grew to adulthood and is now changing the life of a human. It is giving them hope, the potential for independence and will provide them opportunities they may not otherwise have had. This significant moment always makes me feel so passionately about my work, as well as acknowledging the potential these dogs have to truly make a difference in society.
The day has arrived for this pup to begin its new life. The family welcomes them enthusiastically with a welcome banner, toys and a new bed. There are smiles everywhere as photos are taken, happiness surrounding us like a warm blanket. This service dog and their family have always met before, but today is special because they will finally be together forever. I watch as this pup starts exploring around the house, sniffing everything as if to say, “Oh, so this is my new house!”
I work with this family in their home and environment for four days, from six to nine hours per day. We go through each of the dog’s tasks, how to maintain them through training, what they should do and what they should avoid. Everyone is eager to learn and work together, and their new four legged family member is so proud to show them how well he is doing his job – confirming that their wait was not in vain.
Although I recognize that these moments are making me incredibly emotional, I know that I am not the only one. You can see and feel this family’s happiness – this incredible moment where you get to watch their lives start changing for good. It is now the fourth day, the final day. The moment has arrived where my heart starts beating quickly and my eyes began to tear up. It’s the Goodbye day, but we will always keep in touch.
(… I am crying right now as I write this – these moments get me everytime.)
The day after each delivery, I usually always receive a text message or a Facebook post from the families sharing the experiences they are having with their new Service Dog. Just last year I delivered Lelo, Zoey, Trapper, Merlin, Pipe, Radar and Peach. Although I still miss them everyday, I get to watch as they change the life of their new family – providing their human hope and opportunity for a bright and beautiful future.