A Rough Year – Service Dog in Training
I’ve been avoiding doing this post for several weeks, months really. This year has been rough, from start to finish. I’ll summarize as best as I can.
Wesson, a Service Dog in Training, is washing out. He has a loving home that he will be returned to when I am ready. His other owner is a close friend who understands that I need more time to let go, and is allowing us more time. I will still see him when she brings him and his littermate over to visit occasionally.
We knew when we began that the numbers were against us, most service dog prospects “wash out” during the first year of training. (The term means that they are determined not suitable for service dog work.). Yet, it was worth a shot – Wesson is still a wonderful dog, and now with more training and a title under his belt (BH in Schutzhund). But it still feels like a failure. It is one of those things in life that even if you make all the right moves, sometimes you just can’t win.
Emotionally it is hard.
It took me several months to really feel bonded to Wesson, since I am so close to Grace. He is a very willing worker, sillier than Grace when playing, much more sensitive and vocal. Learning new skills was the glue that joined us together as a team. We did successfully learn a new style of training under one of the best (Richard Shook) and earned a Beginner Handler title. It was the first day that Wesson had to shoulder the brunt of the work, since I was quite stressed and in pain. He performed well, but I saw the excess stress shedding, and lack of focus in our work that day.
So, I pulled Wesson from training in Claremont and public access training (“PA”) to work at home to really proof his obedience, and begin task training. He did very well at home and the properties we habitually used to practice at, but at new places and on the short PA trips I had been peppering in slowly he showed signs of stress (not being able to focus as well for longer periods of time, stress shedding, not being able to settle in a long down) that did not fade with repetition, but became more pronounced (he started having gas in public).
This is also around the time that my oldest dog, Brutus began getting sick. He passed away this summer from Hemangiosarcoma (HSA). It is a particularly aggressive type of cancer. He had been being treated for repeated double ear infections and a UTI to get him healthy enough for surgery to remove a benign fatty tumor from his head. When I dropped Brutus off for surgery in July, we were thinking only of the hazards of a senior dog in surgery (we had done blood work and biopsies prior). Instead, the surgery was called off, as the enlarged heart and displaced trachea (from masses pushing against it) made it too risky. When aspirated, the lumps confirm the diagnosis of HSA. Brutus lived about a month more, and passed in August shortly before my birthday.
Brutus was my heart dog. He was shamelessly stubborn and self-serving. He taught me so much, was my biggest fan and best cuddle buddy. Wesson became much more snuggly after Brutus’ passing. He helped me to begin to heal, and motivated me to keep going, to go out and train with him. Grace is more stoic and focused on tasking to help me when I am not doing well. Wesson, unfortunately, is the opposite. When I need him working consistently (when I am not fully coherent, in a lot of pain, etc) he is more clingy and distracted so needs more guidance, which is counter to my needs.
Between the stress at working in public consistently, and the dynamic of dysfunction we had developed when I needed assistance, I made the decision to retire Wesson. I do not feel it is ethical to work a dog who does not love the job, for one; more importantly, he is just not the right working temperament to meet my needs. While many things can be trained (anyone who has seen him with me will attest he has wonderful obedience in public), temperament can only be shaped to a point. We spent over a year together gradually working up to the point where I saw too much stress in him to be willing to continue. It would not be fair to the dog.
So at some point, I will need to begin looking for another prospect. For now, I am taking my time to come to terms and accept the changes that are happening in my life. Health wise I have had some troubling new symptoms this year that I have been working hard to manage. Grace and I love Wesson and he is definitely part of the family, but will be leaving the end of first quarter (2020). After we drop him off at his home, I am going on a sabbatical for several weeks. It will be difficult navigating life without a service dog by my side for a while, but I have no choice.