Today I will begin at the end, because it's a happy ending and we all love happy endings.
Alfie's coming home with us -- yes, this time, to stay!
Getting to the end can be the hard part, though, and I've had few harder days than when Larry called to give me The News: Alfie would have to be released from the guide dog program. The reason was unexpected, to say the least. It turns out that in a freak incident, Alfie committed what I call the "unpardonable sin" of service dogs: he bit his handler. Unbelievable. Since I wasn't there and am only hearing about this third-hand, I don't want to second-guess or discuss the circumstances; in any event, it happened. Thankfully she wasn't seriously hurt -- the skin wasn't broken -- but a dog who has bitten at all, under any circumstances, can't be a service dog. It's pretty cut-and-dried.
To say I was shocked and upset -- well, that doesn't begin to describe how I felt! I grabbed my coat and scarf and tore out into the cold with no clear idea other than an urge to somehow escape what I'd just heard. Sick to my stomach, I found myself walking down a lonely country road, angry and sad and in pain all at once. The frost-silvered hills, so hauntingly beautiful at any other time, seemed harsh and forbidding. One lone cow bawled mournfully under a bare oak, who knows why? It seemed fitting, somehow. I walked furiously, crying, until the road came to an end. Sadly, I had to stop and turn toward home.
Where would Alfie's home be? At the end of our call, Larry had asked me if I'd like to consider adopting him. That goes without saying, I thought, yet I wasn't sure how we could manage it. We've had what some would consider a string of bad luck lately: first, the sale of our Austin house fell through; and although I've been working a few hours part time, Tim had so far succeeded only in finding temporary work. I don't remember exactly what I said to Larry, but I tried my best to explain our situation honestly. Then I just sort of ran out of words and had to hang up. The timing of it all tortured me; had this happened just a few weeks later, I kept thinking, we'd be in more of a position to take Alfie. As it was...well, I just didn't know. I couldn't even think straight. Seemed like all I could do was cry.
It wasn't until much later that I checked my email and saw a message from Larry. I read it slowly, and as I read, all of a sudden I realized: this is what it means to have friends. The staff at GDTx must've understood how I felt about Alfie: they actually pulled together and donated all I'd need to get started. Food...supplies...Larry was even offering to drive Alfie up to us, an amazingly generous gesture! I could scarcely believe it. There really aren't enough words to express my gratitude! I knew deep inside that I'd always regret it if I didn't adopt my buddy Alf.
We originally planned to get Alfie last Thursday, but due to the severe winter weather, we've postponed til mid-February. We can hardly wait. We'll drive to Tulsa to meet Larry, and Alfie will start his new life with us!
To answer the questions I've been getting: Am I disappointed? Yes, very. Alfie is among the brightest and most eager dogs I've ever met, and I was looking forward to following his service career. But to balance that out...now I get to keep him, and who can tell what adventures we'll have together?
Am I worried he'll bite again? I did consider that; after all, I'm a mom and have my family to think of! Was Alfie changed from the dog we'd known and loved? The training staff assured me that he wouldn't be released to me as a pet if they felt there were any concern and, having discussed the incident fully with Larry, I'm inclined to agree.
The truth is, these things happen. It's part of the reality of the service dog world that many dogs will be career changed for various issues. As a puppy raiser, of course, you never want to think of it happening with your puppy. Yet it can, and does, and somehow you deal with it and go on.
So...mixed feelings, definitely. But one thing's for sure: the happiness will outlast the disappointment.
I think Alfie will be pretty happy too, don't you?