The following is a guest post by Amy Munnell, who is a writer from Athens, GA. She is now on her second Canine Partners for Life service dog, named MaGee, whom she was partnered with during our Summer 2011 class. Amy has spinal muscular atrophy and is in a wheel chair. She’s quite the intelligent individual and uses her dog to assist with a lot of retrieval due to her mobility issues. She also has a blog about her most recent Team Training experience this summer.
“Play with ME!” my voice whined in my head. I shouted at the dark streak in the bushes, “How can we bond if you won’t play with me?”
That darting shadow was Kia, my two-year-old black lab. A service dog, she had been trained to help people with disabilities. I had spent three weeks in Pennsylvania working with her at Canine Partners for Life (CPL). We had been home a month, and were supposed to be bonding.
I had planned to play catch, but on my first meager toss, she scooped the tennis ball and bolted to the bushes where two Alaskan Malamutes waited in the next yard. Because of the slope of the property, the neighbor’s yard dropped below ours. Kia could run along the fence behind the bushes, tormenting the dogs from above.
Back and forth she raced, barking out her superiority. I tried to direct her to the ball, which gleamed yellow from among the dried brown leaves, but she paid no attention. She suspended all the rules during playtime.
Living with a service dog turned out to be more of a commitment than I had imagined. Kia went everywhere with me, attached to my power wheelchair with a retracting leash. I had to work her constantly to teach her new skills and to maintain old ones.
Being naturally curious, she stuck her nose into everything and had to be watched until she learned the rules. She needed her exercise. She needed her medicine. She needed regular bathroom breaks out to the end of the driveway. I felt like I had a demanding child as I struggled to meld her life into mine.
Then there was this bonding thing. For six months, no one could interact with Kia in any way, except me. This would cement her loyalty and devotion to me no matter what else happened, the CPL trainers had told me. As I watched her race through the branches, I felt none of that. We did everything else together; couldn’t we play together?
One month stretched into two. When we worked, Kia was nearly perfect. At playtime, however, she had her own agenda.
“Should I let her do what she wants or should I keep trying?” I asked my CPL trainer during one of our monthly phone calls.
“Try different toys,” she suggested. “How did you guys play up here?”
“She spent the entire time playing with an old basketball and ignored all her brand new toys.”
“All the dogs love those basketballs.” She laughed, adding, “I guess we could ship you one.”
I thanked her, but said that my sister’s kids probably had some spares. A few days later, I held the partially deflated and useless ball in my lap as we headed outside. As soon as I cleared the door, Kia snatched it, barely missing my fingers with her eager teeth.
Around the yard she flew, past the pecan tree by the garden, behind the swing set. She ran several laps before stopping to shake the ball hard. It flew from her teeth and she pounced on it as it hit the ground. She was crazy for it!
The Malamutes barked. Kia paused for a second, torn between two loves. She looked from the new ball to the bushes and back. Decision made, she ran one more lap with it before ducking beneath the branches.
“So much for that idea,” I muttered as she even abandoned this ball for the excitement of barking at her neighbors.
I kept trying, playing tag as she ran her laps, cutting her off so she’d swerve around me. But in the end, she always returned to the bark-fest in the bushes.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, almost four months into the “bonding process,” we ventured yet again into the backyard for playtime. It was quiet. The neighbors had gone away for Thanksgiving.
As Kia ran her laps, I tried to find a warm spot in the weak Georgia sun. I didn’t feel like chasing her, but continued coaxing her to me.
“Kia–Come! Bring me the ball.”
Kia trotted up to my chair, then ran off with a flick of her tail, swinging the ball with the rhythm of her stride.
“Cheater!” I teased. “Kia–Come!”
This time she stopped in front of me, watching my face and ready to run.
“Grrrr!” I growled and started toward her. Off she dashed to the end of the yard. She whirled and came running past me.
“Come back here!” I said, and when she did, “Gimme that ball.”
To my surprise, she dropped it on my footstools. We froze looking at each other for a moment, her tail wagging.
With the ball between my feet, I turned sharply, carrying it with me. Chasing along my side, she snatched the ball and sped toward the house.
“Kia–Come! Gimme that ball!”
Again she dropped it on my footstools. I whirled my chair as fast as I could on grass and she followed, grabbing the ball and loping across the yard.
“Good girl!” I yelled, chasing after her.
The next sunny day, we raced outside. I heard the dogs next door and prepared for the worst. Kia ran her laps, then surprised me by stepping up on my footstools to deposit the spit-ladened ball on my knees.
“Off!” I said and she jumped down, waiting. I backed away, dropping the ball as my chair bounced over the grass. The ball had barely touched down when Kia caught it and ran, kicking her rump up like a bucking bronco. I had to laugh.
Alternating the ball on the footstools and in my lap, Kia ignored the barking Malamutes next door. Dirt turned into a slimy paint as she drooled on the leather. Up and down the yard we raced. Twenty minutes later, we both wanted to go in.
Dog spit and ball slime spotted my grey sweat pants. My tennis shoes sported dried grass and dirt blobs. Brown streaks decorated my sweatshirt’s front. Kia panted loudly beside me, her spooned-tip tongue layered in grit. Stray bits of grass poked out at the corners of her mouth, and red dust gave her nails a freshly manicured look.
“You’re a mess!” my dad exclaimed as we came on the porch.
“But we played!” I said. Kia flopped to the floor, the water bowl between her front paws. She lapped noisily.
“Uh-huh,” he said distractedly. “Stay here while I get something to clean you up.” He disappeared into the house, grumbling, “You shouldn’t let her get you so dirty.”
“Whatever,” I muttered and looked down at my grinning pup. She stretched against the cool tile, her tongue wiping a circle in the dust as she panted. Catching my eyes on her, she thumped her tail on the floor and sighed.
For more information about Canine Partners for Life, click on this link: k94life.org .
How did you like this story? Does this inspire you to help out an organization like Canine Partners for Life?