By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Our family has grown by 50 furry pounds. His name is Mac, and we’re all in love.
We hadn’t planned on adding another dog to the family, but some things are meant to be before we realize it. A few months ago, we explored the possibility of finding a service dog for our 14-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with epilepsy early last year. Service dogs can be trained to respond to seizures, get help, and soothe jagged nerves once the episode is over.
But not every dog is cut out for the job. It takes a special temperament along with an ability to learn and perform his duties. So, I talked to a non-profit organization in Indianapolis that specializes in training seizure dogs and asked how we could get our daughter on the list. The man I talked to said that, because demand is high across the country and the training program is long, the average wait time for a service dog can be up to two years.
He said that, if we wanted to speed up the process, we could search for a dog on our own that might have the right personality, potential and was in the right age range to be ready to train. (Most service dogs are nearly a year old before they start their specialized training.) He also told us that certain breeds tend to do well in service dog training programs – breeds and mixes including Golden Retrievers, Labs or Goldendoodles – so finding one of those would increase our chances of having the dog make it through the training program successfully.
What happened next is what some people would call a twist of fate, but I call it a “God thing.” My cousin, who I hadn’t seen in person in several decades, just happened to sell a Goldendoodle puppy several months ago. Then one day the person who’d bought that dog told my cousin she was moving and could no longer keep him. A day later, my cousin sent me a message about this 10-month-old dog named Mac who needed a new home. After a whirlwind of messages, photos and one furry Facetime call, we packed up the car and drove 17 hours to Virginia.
I don’t know if it’s technically possible for a girl and a dog to fall in love at first sight, but that’s what happened. It was as if they’d been waiting for each other their whole lives. After a sniff and a tail wag, Mac plopped down on the floor across Kate’s feet. It was as if he said, “Yep. This is my girl. I’m sticking with her.”
On the 17-hour car ride back home, Mac was more patient than the rest of us. When he wasn’t sleeping, he nuzzled into his new favorite human, basking in belly rubs and her adoring attention.
Now that we’ve been home a few weeks, we wonder how we ever got along without him. He’s like a puzzle piece that clicked into place. Covered in wavy hair the color of a lightly toasted marshmallow, Mac looks a Muppet. He has Fozzie Bear’s sense of fun combined with the calming presence of “Snuffy,” who was Big Bird’s furry elephant friend on Sesame Street.
What we know about Mac so far is that he’s tall and likes to hug humans by wrapping his furry front legs around our waists. He loves a good game of tug-of-war but instinctively knows when it’s time to be gentle. And he hasn’t quite grasped that he’s a big dog because he sits in our laps and blocks our view of the TV.
When Mac is in hot pursuit of a thrown ball, he sometimes forgets to use his brakes and slides into a piece of furniture before galloping back with the prize in his mouth. His long, lanky legs stand in stark contrast to Cooper, our resident Corgi, who is about as annoyed with his new roommate as you might imagine. But he’s slowly warming up to him. We caught the two of them playing together last week, and Cooper thinks Mac is a new sheep he should herd around the house. Charlie, our senior citizen beagle, thinks we’re all ridiculous and takes extra naps over at my mom’s house to avoid any foolishness.
In a few weeks after Mac has had time to settle into our home, he and Kate will start online service dog training with supervision from a local trainer. We can hardly wait to see how they’ll learn to help each other. And we’re so thankful for a “God thing” that came along just when we needed it.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. Her book is available on Amazon.