I love my job – learning new stuff, making terrific new poocheroo pals! Like this week. You know how, when you think of a Service Dog, you picture a German Shepherd or Labrador or some other big, take-charge looking breed? I know I do. Or did.
So when I scheduled an interview with a Hearing and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Service Dog, PeiPei Taylor (PayPay), that’s what I was thinkin’. We planned to meet at Cracker Barrel and, at first, when me and my Assistant went to the table where her Mom and Dad and some friends were sitting, I thought PeiPei had forgotten to show up. But when we were settling in, I heard this sweet little voice from under the table. “Hello, Mr. Bonzo. It’s me, PeiPei. I’m down here. I’m really glad you’re gonna do my story. Do ya want some toast or something?”
I looked down and there, on a colorful blanket right next to her Dad’s feet, was this little Pug, wearing an Official Vest with Patches.
“A PUG?” I thought. “Seriously?”
“Oh, er, no thank you. I, um, I was, um, expecting …” I stammered.
She laughed. “No worries, Mr. Bonzo. Happens all the time. The first time my trainer met me even she said, ‘It’s a PUG?’ But Service Dogs come in all sizes. We may be small, like me, but our hearts are BIG! This is my Mommy, Dawn, and my Daddy, Jim, I’m his Service Dog, and these are our friends: Shelly, she’s our trainer, and Lisa, they’re with Dogs for Life; and this is Shadow Santos and his human, Tony. Shadow’s a Balance Dog; and this is Kathi, she’s a BIG Dogs for Life supporter and she knows Everything About Dogs – horses, too.”
“I’m honored to meet you and all your family and friends, Miss PeiPei.” Shadow, a good-lookin’ black Lab, was On Duty, so he just smiled and nodded, then settled back down next to his Dad.
“I know you have an amazing story,” I said to PeiPei.
“I sure do. My Daddy’s Mom and Dad were volunteers at H.A.L.O. rescue up in Sebastian. They were unloading a bunch of rescue pooches, including me. I was just a puppy. My (future) Daddy and Mommy were on the way to pick up their daughter at the airport and had stopped to help unload. Even though I’m a purebred, my breeder couldn’t sell me cuz I had a very bad eye. I was almost totally blind. I kept bumping into stuff, and my eyes were all boogly, going every which way. Then, Bonzo, one of the most amazing moments in my life happened. I’ll never forget. Mommy and Daddy saw me and Right Then and There they decided to adopt me as a Best Friend and Helper for Daddy. They took me to a dog surgeon in Miami who did a big operation on my eye for Half Price. Three days after my surgery, my bandages came off, I opened my eyes and I could SEE my Mommy and Daddy for the first time. And I don’t bump into stuff anymore.”
I had to stop writing and wipe my eyes with my paw.
“So,” PeiPei continued, “I started regular obedience training, you know, sit, stay, shake, that stuff. Then Mommy heard that Dogs for Life was looking for veterans to be in their Dogs for Veterans program. My Daddy was in Iraq with the Army and saw horrible things I can’t even imagine. After he got home, he thought he was OK, but 18 months later, he was at Disney World with his daughter and he totally freaked out. He had what humans call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which means your mind keeps pulling you back into those horrible places and you can’t get out. Daddy gave up on life. When he was in a bunch of people, he felt like he had to either fight ’em all or run away, so he never went out and didn’t want anybody to visit. When Miss Shelly came to visit, to see if I qualified for the program, it was the first time Daddy had let anybody in.
“Thank Lassie I made it and, 668 hours of training later, I was fully qualified, even got my own photo ID. Now, even though Daddy says, ‘I live in Iraq every night. I can still smell the sand,’ I’m right beside him to help him be calm. When we go out, I make sure people keep a comfortable distance away to keep his stress down. Me and Daddy have a special bond. He says me and Miss Shelly saved his life.”
It was hard finding my voice. Finally I asked, “Whaddya do when you’re Off Duty?”
“I’m always by Dad’s side. But I have fun, too. Like running around the house makin’ clicky noises with my toenails. And I do my crouchy football stance so Daddy’ll play with me. But, guess what Bonzo, I’m a total Girly Girl. I have more than 200 dresses. I love getting all Dolled Up. Then I’m a Mommy’s Girl. I can even say, ‘I love you, Mommy,’ in Human. Wanna hear?”
And, by Snoopy, she did! It was like, “Aaaar woooove ooooo, Mommeeeeeeaarf!”
PeiPei wants me to remind all my Dog Buddies that, if your human puts a vest on you and tells other humans you’re a Service Dog when you haven’t been trained or anything, that isn’t right. It took PeiPei a year and a half to get fully trained, for Lassie’s Sake. It makes it harder for all the actual Service Dogs, and it’s not fair to you, either. It’s a Big, Serious Responsibility!
Till next time,