Service dog sculpture at Metrotech Plaza in Br...

Service dog sculpture at Metrotech Plaza in Brooklyn-2 (Photo credit: Martha Garvey)

After leaving work on a Friday afternoon, my mind is on many things. I think about how hard I have worked during the week. That thought is generally followed by “Only two days off! I need more time!” (Don’t we all think this one!) Generally, I then start compiling all the lists of “stuff” that a weekend entails: honey-do lists (heh), grocery list, schedules, stuff I need to do but don’t really want to do. stuff I really want to do but don’t need to do, stuff I really don’t want to do and will NOT do, etc. This is a process most of us go through, winnowing through the sheer possibility only to thin the list by finance and time into some vague structure to start the weekend. Much will get done, a few items will not and will then be shuttled onto the ever-lengthening list of stuff to do NEXT weekend.

Such was the case this past Friday. I was sitting on the bus as it prepared to leave the downtown area, idly people watching as I pondered what was for dinner. An immaculately-coiffed woman in a blue business suit sat down in a bench seat to my left. She fumbled with her oversized purse and brought out an iPad. She powered it up and sneezed twice in rapid succession, saying nothing to the several people around her who blessed her afterwards. The bus pulled away and started its journey, stopping every few blocks to pick up more people.

I was drawn out of my reveries by some shuffling and unusual activity at the front of the bus a few feet away. I saw the golden head before I saw the rest of the scene. The large golden retriever came onto the bus calm, regal, and quiet. I was on my way out of my seat at that sight alone, before iPad lady told me to move. I moved a few rows back, and watched the dog escort its master to the seat as people milled about, rather uncertain of what to do.

Service dogs never cease to amaze me. This was no different. Surrounded by strangers that might cause a lesser dog to panic and act out, this beautiful animal stood there as its master settled in the seat and then sank to the ground with only some pressure and murmured direction from its lucky human. When another person came to sit, the dog crawled under the seat of the iPad lady and settled right back in.

I don’t believe people understand the work and effort that goes into training a dog to perform as that one did on the bus. So much could have gone wrong in that simple series of interactions. I reflected on that small miracle as we made our way onto the interstate and headed north to suburbia.

I love and adore Chi, and have often thought of training him to be a therapy dog. There’s no way my lovable lug of a pug could be a service dog. He is too involved in responding to others. Most pets are, I’d think. I know that service dogs start their training as mere puppies with their trainers. Preparation time with these trainers can be over a year. There is a reason for that time. I usually witness service dogs leading their humans across streets, or walking down a hall. I take for granted what these beautiful animals do.

I am fortunate to work in a community that hosts two people with service dogs. Sometimes we are encouraged to greet the animals, and sometimes not. One of my favorite moments with a service animal happened at work, in the cafeteria at lunchtime. A black lab serves a blind man at work, and it’s a character to be sure. The dog was laying on the floor at the table next to us as the man enjoyed his lunch. The room was packed full of people. The dog was well behaved with the tiniest exception… it kept looking at us as we ate. My lunch companion and I did not interfere, knowing we should not interact with the dog, but it kept “flirting” with us anyway. A few months later in a conversation, that dog’s owner said he knew she did that, and sort of chuckled. So, clearly these are individual animals with individual personalities.

This golden retriever that came onto the bus was simply a magnificent animal. And as I walked down the aisle to leave the bus, I leaned over and whispered to the man. “You have the most magnificent service dog I have ever seen.” He broke into a smile so wide, so full of pride. In his world, that dog was clearly the greatest too.

The next time you see a service animal, take a moment and think about the miracle of training and love that takes place in order for a dog to serve a human.

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