On a trip years ago, our group had a Native American guide for one day and, lucky me, I was seating right behind him as he drove.  Of course the subject of my service dog came up and of course, shortly afterwards, the idea of giving her a Native American name.  I’d always loved the ones I’d heard and found them more telling and expressive and colorful than the name I’d been given by my parents.  I’d always longed to have one myself,  But that aside, as I described my dog’s good and bad points, the perfect name was selected: Barks Too Much.

I’ve never met a perfect service dog, not one trained by a venerable institution, not one trained by a disabled partner, not one who saved my life every single day.  There is no such thing as perfect.  It’s something you reach for, but never reach. Dogs, like humans, have personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes, astonishing talents, insidious faults.  No matter what method is used to train a service dog, he or she may be very, very good, even amazingly good, but never perfect.  Because there are horses in Central Park. Or, in the case of an old friend’s guide dog, pizza on the coffee table.  Because temptations and irritations occur.  Because real life is surprising, messy, annoying, tempting and because, so to speak, we are all human.

What makes a great, imperfect service dog? Focus on her partner. The ability to learn to work, to learn the rules of your job, to bend and break those rules when that makes more sense than following them.  Yes.  That.  The ability to play away stress, because it is stressful to have a job that, in some cases, goes around the clock, that means you are alert to when you are needed even when you are sleeping.  Yes.  That.  The ability to tell your partner in no uncertain terms that he or she needs your help RIGHT NOW, even when that partner (only human, after all) does not know that that is so.  Flexibility.  The ability to disappear in public, in a restaurant, say.  The ability to walk very, very slowly in a museum, to lie quietly at your partner’s feet on a long plane ride, unless you are needed, to sometimes help another person, not your partner, when asked to do so or when you know you are needed and you know you are needed badly enough to discard the “rules” for the moment.  Yes.  That.

 

Barking at horses, the thud of a basketball being bounced, skateboards? Just proving that she’s only human and celebrating the wisdom of her name.

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