XENIA, Ohio – After wrangling everyone, dogs included, into a giant, smooshed, group photo to commemorate the day that was a long-time coming for everyone in the room, it was time to celebrate their achievement.
After 11 days of tracking and tethering and training, not to mention a fabulous Howl-o-Ween Trunk or Treat celebration, it was October’s PAWsitively Blessed class’s graduation. And it goes without saying, tears were shed by all. It was admittedly a hard and trying week for most everyone in class. In fact, there seemed to be a moment by each and every family when they were ready to pack up and go home—which was one of many emotions they weren’t prepared for when they arrive at class. But they stayed. Now they were grateful for the experience, their 4 Paws service dogs and their new 4 Paws family.
“[I] was ready to go home after the mall—but they bonded very quickly,” said Trinity’s grandmother at graduation about their Golden Retriever Tony.
They seemed to bond on the first day of class at their introduction. The small strawberry-blond girl sat patiently as Tony was led to her. She giggled and stroked his long, golden fur on top of his head. She loved her dog and Tony loved his girl.
Samuel was matched with Lugnut and it was a moment his family had been waiting for a long, long time.
His innocent, warm brown eyes, peered across the 4 Paws training floor, as one by one, each dog was given to the other families in the October class. Finally, it was time for Lugnut to be led across the floor and into his arms.
As the beautiful, Golden Retriever made his way to his boy; Samuel’s eye lit up like it was Christmas morning. His hands began to clap together and his smile was uncontrollably from ear to ear. This was the best gift his parents could ever imagine for their son.
“I’m speechless. It’s been an amazing two weeks,” said David, Samuel’s father. “The 1st day I wondered what we got ourselves into—but now, we see a lot of hope and help in this.”
“This is the beginning of a new normal for us,” he continued, as he sobbed.
The always-loving Tali, who could be seen kissing her mom during graduation photos, also loved her Zotz, a yellow Labrador Retriever.
Mork and Noah were not pals right away, but the fluffy, four-legged friend of his was going to change the lives of his family—although, his dad admitted on graduation to being nervous, very, very nervous, he laughed asking the trainers to accompany them to their home.
On the first day, Jeff wasn’t too sure about Clifford. He didn’t want to touch him at the beginning of class. It was something that had to happen over time.
Beckett and Charlie were two of a kind from the start. They both seemed to have smiles glued to their faces from day one. And those smiles made others enjoy class even more, especially during 4 Paws’ Annual Howl-o-Ween celebration, when they came dressed as pirates. Argh, matees! Beckett was of course from the Pirate Litter after all! Shiver me timbers!
“Fantastic edition to our family,” said Drew’s mom Mary, as she cried, about Gauge. “[I] can’t believe we’re going home with our dog!”
Tania, Nate and Chevy’s mom, said bursting with tears of joy regarding her experience at 4 Paws for Ability, “You know the poem ‘Welcome to Holland’? Well this is ‘Welcome to Xenia.’” (Welcome to Holland is an essay, written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley, about having a child with a disability.)
“4 Paws, you’re my new family. Our journey was hard. [But] we have a great gift to go home with.”
Nate’s smile on the first day never faded throughout class. On graduation day, he flew across the floor with diploma in hand, excited for his accomplishment and even more excited to go home with his Chevy.
“She’s a crack head! But man she’s awesome!” he said laughing with the entire room. “She makes us so comfortable… to know he has a friend, and [that] she won’t lose him. And Da’Myron… well he never stopped smiling from the moment he stepped his tiny foot inside 4 Paws.
“You’re meant to have the dog you have. It’s just meant to be—all of us here,” said Carson’s mom Denise, regarding their switch from Pace to Vito.
Patrick’s father told the class at graduation how they came to the decision to get a service dog for their non-verbal son. While he cannot speak, he does type. And he told his dad that he wanted a dog. With a shaky voice full of emotion, he said he remembered that Patrick typed, “I want a best friend.” And two and a half years later they have Jethro. So he asked Patrick during class at 4 Paws, ‘What do you think?’ To that he typed, “I love him.” And that, his dad said, sums it up for his family. But what truly sums up their experience may have been the quiet moment between Patrick’s father and Jethro, as he leaned down and hugged his son’s service dog around the neck during graduation. The bond is strong… for the entire family.
There wasn’t a single cheek not stained from tears by the time the families were finished telling all who gathered for graduation what the past 11 days has meant to them. Training director, Jeremy Dulebohn finished up graduation, saying that dogs are amazing creatures.
“What a service dog can do to change a life is evident here today. Unlike any other creature, they can give unconditional love.”
-Photos and article by Jessica Noll
Story Book Litter
J is for Joy Litter
Golden Labrador Retriever
Mork and Mindy Litter