The day I brought Rooster home — the runt of the litter, with a head that looked too big for his body — I had no idea what big changes this little dog would make in my life. I was raised around animals, and cannot remember a time when my days were not filled with caring for a menagerie of barn cats, a shoebox of baby birds, some variety of mice or hamsters, or an aquarium for the frogs, fish, and snakes my brothers and I caught, and of course, we were never without at least one large family dog. Once I finished grad school, the first thing I did was get a dog of my own, and for four years I shared my life with a wily, funny, irreverent bulldog named Dougie. I was sure I could never love another dog (or perhaps even a human) as much as I loved him. One of the worst days of my life was getting a phone call from my mother with the devastating news that he had been hit by a car, and for more than a year after that, I could not even bring myself to consider the possibility of replacing him.
Last summer, I came back to Georgia after several years in DC, limping from the pain of a terrible year — like the rest of the world, I was shaken by the pandemic, I had lost a dear friend to an overdose, I was struggling to find a job, suffering from an as-yet undiagnosed autoimmune disorder which was being exacerbated by significant anxiety, and had gone through a traumatic assault, which left me too afraid to sleep without all the lights on in my apartment, as if I were a young child again. My boyfriend and I had been fostering dogs for months to help out a local rescue group, but I was still not ready to commit to more than that.
When I saw Rooster's face, something changed. I can't claim that I knew at that moment how much I needed him, or how much he would improve our lives, but there was something there — something that would not let me turn away, something that pushed me to give him a chance. For the first two weeks that we had him, I confess I was not completely sure it would stick. I was hesitant. I wondered if I could really connect with him as much as I had with my first dog, I wondered if my health (both physical and mental) would allow me to take care of an animal with the consistency and patience that this little ball of springing, bouncing energy would require.
But that was the first of many invaluable lessons that Rooster taught me. Nothing is displaced when more love is added; instead, your heart stretches to encompass more than you ever imagined. I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when I knew Rooster and I were kindred spirits; it might have been on one of our many evenings walks around the fields behind my mother's farmhouse, when he was still so small that he could not see above the tall grass and all I could see was the top of his head as he hopped like a bunny as fast as he could to keep up with me. It might have been one of the times I thought I had lost him in the woods, when I looked behind me and couldn't see him, only to realize that he was, in fact, keeping so close to me that his little shoulder was practically pressed against my ankle. It might have been when he insisted on sleeping, not beside, but directly on top of, my boyfriend and me — with his head on one of our chests, his body sprawled across the other one, all three of us breathing in tandem. Or it may have been when, after many disappointing attempts to find a medication that managed my symptoms without too many grueling side effects, my doctors finally noticed an improvement in my condition. My appetite had improved, my symptoms were lessening, and my anxiety was rapidly dissipating. They were surprised at my improvement, but I wasn't — I already knew that it was Rooster's presence in my life that had made all the difference.
Though he was already doing more for me than I could put into words, I decided to get Rooster officially trained and certified as a service dog. I will forever be grateful to the amazing team at Service Dog Training School International for their guidance and support through the process. Rooster is eager to please and very clever, so training him has always been fairly easy, but he is also (like me) sometimes impulsive and a little wild, so the patience and tips our trainer provided were incredibly helpful in getting us to the finish line. Only a few months before Rooster got his certification, I had gotten something similar of my own--I passed the licensure exam to practice as a therapist. Now Rooster comes to client sessions with me, and I know his presence makes an enormous impact on the well-being of my patients. I am so happy to get the chance to share my experience and hope that if you are considering enrolling your dog in this training program, you take this as your sign--don't wait another day to make the best decision you ever will for you and your dog! Rooster and I are rooting for you.