This past weekend, my husband Geoff returned home from a week’s training with his new co-pilot and service pup, Emerson Gronk Snowy Krill.He left again this morning for one more week, and even after only a 48-hour furlough home with us, we were so sad to see them both pull away from the house.Emerson came with his own first name, and our children filled in the rest, appropriately so– given our Patriots are headed to the Superbowl this upcoming weekend—and we live in a very snowy region of the country.There is so much we do not even understand yet about how this handsome, 2-year-old yellow lab is going to change our life.But we learned a lot this weekend based on family time combined with the many “rules” about service dog training, and as with any life changing transition, there is a serious learning curve here.
I’m so glad we waited until our children were a little older to understand the difference between a regular family pet and a service dog who belongs to our family.This would have been really confusing when they were smaller and less able to understand.We chose NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), to be the program we used to establish our service dog training relationship.NEADS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was established in 1976 and is based in Princeton, Massachusetts. According to their website and philosophy, “Our Service Dogs become an extension of their handlers and bring freedom, physical autonomy and relief from social isolation to their human partners who are deaf or have a disability.”
Another cool component of NEADS.org is that between 90-95% of their puppies are raised and trained within 7 correctional facilities in New England, working specifically with one inmate over the course of their puppyhood.Inmates are able to spend a LOT of time training, reinforcing positive behavior, and bonding with these puppies, so the transition to becoming a service dog for one person is a natural one.These puppies also spend time with weekend foster parents doing regular life activities like getting in and out of vehicles, playing in dog parks, shopping in grocery stores and socializing in homes with other people. The cost of training these exceptional service animals is approximately $8000, which we found to be easier to fundraise for than initially expected.The bottom line is that people really love dogs in this world!
This first weekend home with us was a little confusing for him as Geoff works at Loon Mountain, a very busy ski resort this time of year.We did not want to overwhelm Emerson with too many people, but he seemed to settle in to life with our family comfortably.He has an incredible vocabulary of commands, loves to play ball, snuggle, and listens very well.Falling in love with him was immediate, and our children are quickly learning the ropes of his management within our family.In fact, our little boy woke us up at 4 AM on Saturday to tell us, “Mom, we need to walk Emerson this morning.” And while that is true, his timing was a bit premature.
Our daughter reprimanded me during breakfast on Sunday that we were eating at the table but Emerson was not in his “Down- Stay” position under the table.She was right.He should have been since he was in the kitchen with us and not in the shower with Geoff.While we don’t know all the ways Emerson is going to help Geoff pick items up or push his chair to him if it rolls away, we do recognize the power of this companionship.The 23rd anniversary of Geoff’s snowmobiling accident which left him paralyzed was on January 29, and, although he hates to think he is getting older or slower, THERE are things which have grown harder for him.Don’t tell him I’ve said this publicly.I noticed a calmer Geoff at the end of a hectic weekend who just wanted to pet Emerson and tell him “Good boy, good boy” and be warmed by his furry body.I noticed the stress leave his body when he walked him around on neighborhood on his leash with our children.I noticed Emerson stick right by his side, which fills my heart with love for this new member of our family.For more information about NEADS, check out www.neads.org.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 6.Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”