After making fourteen phone calls to all of her uncles, aunts, and cousins that could have possibly attended special friends day, Maggie called me. It was 905 in the morning. She called from the office, minutes before the tardy bell.
“Can you come to school at ten for the special friends assembly?” Maggie asked, winded from running from her locker when she remembered that I was the only one left. She caught me just in time. I had just geared up for a long walk with Bear. I was ready to head to the dog park: clicker on wrist, treat bag (not a fanny pack) clicked on, poop bags hanging from the treat bag, scent sample in right pocket, “no scent” sample in left pocket, low-value treats, and high-value treats. I only had to harness up Bear and clip on his “Service Dog” vest.
So when Maggie asked if I could come for special friends day, I was first inclined to drop her softly, but then I realized that Bear would be Maggie’s special friend. Instead of declining the invitation, giving Maggie her fifteenth negative response, I told her that I’d bring Bear, her truly special friend.
“No you can’t. You better not.” I could hear her brain narrowing in on the best reason. “The principal prohibits dogs in school. She won’t let you inside. She has already kicked out other people’s dogs.”
I have to give it to Maggie; she can really be convincing. And had I not been briefed about where service dogs can and cannot go, I may have left Bear at home (or left Maggie at school alone, and taken Bear for a walk. I mean, do middle schooler’s need a grandparent coming in to visit?). But I knew better. I knew that Bear could go anywhere without explicit permission, save for religious institutions.
And so I clipped leash to harness and headed out.
Visiting the school allowed Bear to practice sitting in a small space and being in large crowds. The marimba band banged out a few songs, students gave some announcements, people walked by our chair, the jazz band blared out a medley of Les Miserables, and Bear stayed under the chair with the help of my foot on his leash. Bear struggled at first, attempting to lick the shoes traveling by nose-level, but he soon settled down.
After the assembly we walked the halls with all the other special friends. With no shortage of distractions, my hand was full of treats, doling them out at a constant stream. The vest kept everyone from approaching Bear. A few people could not help themselves, and asked nicely if they could pet Bear. After a quick explanation that he needed to be sitting and stay sitting, they got their wish of a few pets as Bear slobbered over their fingers. One person that could not help herself was the principal. So much for being kicked out of school. In fact, she had recently had to put down her yellow lab of fifteen years, and immediately created a strong bond with Bear.
Leigh and Maggie strike a pose. Bear not impressed.
Because part of Maggie’s evil plan involved going out to lunch after the assembly and tour of school (“It’s part of special friends day,” she said), we had to go be her friend Ashley’s block class and silently confer about if she was coming to lunch. You remember silently communicating with friends across the room in school. It’s pretty obvious to everyone. I conspicuously stood in the doorway as Maggie attempted to pull me to the stairwell, terrified that the teacher would invite us in to his class. Fiona had this teacher two years ago, and he knows that I am taking a year off to train Bear (among other things…hopefully).
Sure enough he spotted us and invited us in at which point Maggie disappeared. So Bear and I went without Maggie. I answered questions about what he was being trained for and other parts of training. We demonstrated signalling a low-scent. One of the students who sat in our row at the assembly said he didn’t even realize Bear was under my seat at the assembly.
We left the class, left the school and went to Killer Burgers for lunch, where Bear laid quietly beside our table with the help of my foot on his leash. I can’t help but feel a little cruel taking Bear to a hamburger joint and forcing him to silently lay beside us. Most of Bear’s world is through smells. It would be like taking a recovering alcoholic to an all-you-can-drink party and not giving them a cup.
Bear did great. Though not totally under control, he never completely lost it. More trips are planned. In fact, today we went to Costco. Tomorrow we go on a field trip with Declan’s class to the Sellwood Bridge. This will be very challenging as it is right next to the dog park. Maybe we will steal away for a little bit of free time.
I continue to be concerned that Bear is smelling the plastic or the cotton swab when I present the low-scent sample. I remain nervous each time I present the “no-scent” sample that he will signal for a low-scent.
On day one, before Bear pooped in Maggie’s room, she loved him (I think she still does), and he was a bit afraid.