Feel “Free” To Go Aww

, , , , , , | Hopeless | September 17, 2019

(I train seeing-eye dogs and service animals for a living and have for the past ten years. The number of people who ignore a vest on a dog ceased to surprise me many years ago. On this day, I have three six-month-old golden retriever pups with me who are being trained as therapy companion animals — not seeing-eye dogs — so their training is a little different, and it’s not as strict as it is for dogs who need to be alert animals or guide dogs. I’ve taken them down to the dog park for socialising in their little vests that state they’re in training. When we get there, the dog park is mostly empty, save for a young couple in their 20s and their four- or five-year-old daughter. They’re throwing a ball for a chocolate lab puppy around the same age as my trio of loveable idiots, and mine are whining at me because they want to be “freed” to chase the ball. Sticking to their training, they’re sitting at my feet practically vibrating with excitement. The little girl tosses the ball and it rolls within three feet of my pups, who all amp up their whining. The other family’s dog seems to get spooked by mine, so it hangs back, and the little girl comes to retrieve the ball.)

Little Girl: “Oh! Mummy! Puppies!”

(I’m already impressed that she hasn’t barrelled forward to grab at the pups like most kids her age would do; even adults tend to think that because they’re small and cute they are up for grabs. While they all frantically wag their tails at the thought of a new friend, they stay seated. The little girl cocks her head to the side and starts sounding out the letters on their vests.)

Little Girl: “T… tr… tra… Train! Excuse me, are these train dogs?”

(Her parents have come over and we all giggle at her saying “train dogs.”)

Dad: “They say, ‘dog in training,’ sweetie. What does it mean when a doggy has a vest on with words on it?”

Little Girl: *sadly* “To leave them alone because they’re doing a job. I just wanted to look at them; they’re cute.”

(Her own puppy has sidled forward to sniff at mine, who are all ready to explode by this point but are still seated, waiting for the all-clear. The mum calls her dog back and holds his collar, apologising.)

Me: “That’s fantastic! You’re very clever. But guess what? These puppies are learning to be good friends to kids who need to feel safe and loved, so they can play. You ready guys? FREE!”

(The three balls of golden fluff EXPLODED from at my feet. They started running in circles, pawing at the other puppy, yipping excitedly, and licking the little girls’ shoes. Her face was something I’ll remember forever; a kid getting to play in a pile of puppies is something truly magical. She asked lots of questions about different kinds of helper dogs, and promised me she wouldn’t bother any dogs in vests unless their human said it was okay. Her parents thanked me, but I thanked them, as well, as learning to behave around kids is something very important to support dogs and we got in some great practice that day. That kiddo was so great for already knowing what a service animal was. I hope I can meet more like her in the future.)

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