From the moment 4 month-old Mulder romped into the room and presented both of us with the “doodle hug,” my husband and I knew we were in trouble. We told ourselves that we were going to do this puppy raising for someone else, that we would guard our hearts so that we would never have to experience the ache of saying goodbye to another dog. It was as if he knew we needed him to love for a little while, as much as Joe needed him after he was finished with the business of growing. And so, our journey began. It didn’t take us long to figure out that he was a special guy. As puppy raisers we took our job very seriously. We took him with us everywhere we went and we created as many experiences as possible that we could think of that a family might need him to be prepared. Along the way, as we introduced him to kids of all ages at schools, churches, libraries, festivals, playgrounds, museums – you name it – we wound up meeting a whole host of people with whom we would have never had a conversation.
We used the words “bullet-proof” to describe Mulder. He never met a noise, a sight or an experience that made him nervous. He was very curious about his shadow and chased his tail as if it were something that followed him, but truly these were his only challenges. Mulder’s other special talent seemed to be his ability to find things. His nose was never wrong. If we hid his ball somewhere to take a break, he immediately reminded us where it was located, even if it was in another room. Mulder wasn’t with us long before we began telling folks who asked us what kind of service dog he would be someday, “Well, that’s for the folks in Advanced Training to figure out, but we’re guessing he’d be great in a family with a child who is diagnosed with Autism.”
Without a doubt the most rewarding part of our experience as Puppy Raisers has been these months after Mulder met Joe and became his best friend. There were times while raising him when we thought there would be no way he would ever sleep on a bed, given his love for the tile floor or the air conditioner vents. His love for playing ball, greeting people and other dogs and sniffing every smell in the grocery store were all potential distractors that we wondered how on earth he would ever leave behind. But then, through the photos his new family posted, we’ve seen Mulder develop a love for someone much more special than any of his puppy favorites. Seeing photos of Mulder and his boy sleeping together, hanging out with Joe’s classmates at school together and most recently being a comfort to Joe in an overwhelming situation without even being asked to do so has simply made all those tears that were shed on the drive back home from give-back day worth it.