How is it that raising a puppy can be incredibly rewarding and unbelievably frustrating all at the same time? Last semester, I was able to “foster” a 4-month old Yellow Labrador named Abba, through a program called 4 Paws for Ability. The non-profit organization trains service dogs for children with disabilities.
A woman named Karen Shirk founded the organization in 1998, when she found it near impossible to obtain a service dog for herself. She created 4 Paws for Ability with intentions of providing children with a companion, regardless of his or her disability. These dogs are trained to provide service to children with autism, diabetes, and seizure disorders.
Before these amazing puppies go through their training program, they’re placed with a student (like myself) or a family, for a few months. My job as a “foster parent” was to socialize Abba by taking her with me to class, the grocery store, and restaurants.. In order for her to be a service dog, she had to be comfortable in crowded places, riding in cars, riding elevators, etc.
I’ll never forget the first time I took Abba to class with me. Just the walk there was a challenge. Every other person we passed wanted to pet Abba. Boy did she love the attention, proudly prancing around campus clad in her adorable red service dog vest — her 4 Paws for Ability patch front and center.
Once we arrived at my classroom, we made our way to my seat and I quickly got Abba situated under my chair. She was surprisingly well behaved throughout the first half of class, but about 30 minutes into it I heard a rustling sound behind me. I turned around to find Abba’s face buried in a student’s backpack, fishing through her brown bag lunch. By that time, the entire class had realized what was happening, and looked over just in time to see Abba’s face emerge from the backpack with an entire turkey sandwich in her mouth.
I never had a dull moment with Abba, and despite those crazy puppy things she did, my time with her was nothing short of wonderful. The evening before we had to say our goodbyes, I broke every rule in the book. After feeding her quite the feast of hot dogs and cheddar cheese, I let her sleep in my bed with me and cried until I fell asleep. She created so many special memories for me that I will hold dear for years to come.
Just last weekend, I got to see Abba again for the first time in almost four months. I was so proud when I got the news that she passed her training program. She was an official certified service dog! My roommate and I drove 3 hours to Xenia, Ohio (where 4 Paws is headquartered) to see her graduate.
It was such a rewarding experience to meet the family that she was placed with. The little girl whom Abba will be a companion to is named Ruby. Ruby has the most beautiful head of curly blonde hair, with bright blue eyes that absolutely light up the room. Her parents were genuinely excited to meet me and were so appreciative that I took the time to foster their new family member, Abba. Seeing what an impact Abba will have on this young girl’s life made saying my final goodbye so much easier. As much joy as she brought to my life for those four short months, I know she will bring Ruby and her sweet family a lifetime of joy and special memories.
To learn how you can get involved with 4 Paws for Ability on your campus, visit www.4pawsforability.org!