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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog, February 4, 2020: “A different kind of love story”

This February marks two years since Emerson Gronk Snowy Krill joined our family as perhaps the best yellow lab service dog to walk the earth. When he first arrived, we were worried we might be too much for him as a collective force of nature. However, his shell shock eventually wore away and he likely can’t remember not loving us. That’s what we tell ourselves anyway.

Emerson, when being commanded, is also Em, Emmy, Baby BOYYY, when being commandeered by either of our children for fun outside in snowbanks or when bedtime calls. He puts our son to bed every night without fail by snuggling up close in his bed, a tradeoff he has come to accept because Geoff and I are big people and he doesn’t fit easily at the foot of our bed. However, he does try from time to time, almost as good a nighttime ninja as our daughter. Mostly though, he will sit on by my side and rest his head so it is touching my nose and let out this low rumble as if to say, “Mom, the boy child is asleep, but I was getting hot in his bed so now I’m here.Will you let me up?” He is so smart and so well trained though that when I say, “Bed” he goes to his own actual bed at the foot of ours.If I say, “Up” or “Visit” he settles himself wherever I pat or point my hand.

Geoff is, of course, his first person. Always. However, I’m a close second, and because I’m not his boss, I’m perhaps his favorite when he is not working and wearing his vest. I’m the one who gets to take him on the trails in the woods where on hot days he jumps in the cool pools of our rivers.He puts his head under water and comes up smiling. For real.Actual smiles.In the winter, he zooms around our fenced in yard, slides his body down snowbanks, chases balls, scrambles up hills with our children, looking out in the distance, overlooking his kingdom, a kind of Simba, tall, proud, and powerful.

It goes without saying that we can’t imagine our life well before without him in it. We love him. Our children love him, maybe even more than us these days. They help to feed him, to water him, to pick up his poop, to take him on walks, to brush his fur, to snuggle, to fall asleep on, to love. Emerson doesn’t lecture them about completing homework or putting laundry away or bringing in firewood or finishing the shoveling. He hops out of Geoff’s car after arriving home and heads right for his bin of toys, some of which are actual dog chew toys, but most are “borrowed” or “confiscated” stuffies that first belonged to the children. “But Mom, look at him, we can’t get rid of Donna the seal from Martha’s Vineyard; it’s Emmy’s favorite,” and we glance to the boy laying his head that very moment on sweet Donna, the stuffed seal, sewn twice already when overexcited puppy friends visited. “Get the stuffies off the ground,” our daughter always says.She knows that tug toys and ropes are better when Emerson’s dog friends come around.

Still people ask us, but what does the dog do to help Geoff? He picks up Geoff’s pushing gloves; he picks up his phone; he nudges doors closed or tugs ropes to open them; he listens and responds accordingly. He obviously doesn’t go skiing or biking with Geoff so going to work with him means taking naps beneath his desk and spreading good dog mojo throughout the ski school building of Loon Mountain. The workday is better for everyone Geoff works around when Emerson’s wagging tail and giant happy head is nearby.

He is the perfect family pet when not wearing his service dog vest; he is the perfect service dog when working. He even passed all his skills tests and “tricks of the service dog trade” this fall in order to be recertified. This is evidence to prove we haven’t screwed up all of his incredible training through NEADS ( or the careful love and affection from the prisoner he worked with one on one for the first two years of life, or the puppy raisers who trained him on weekends. Carver reports that Emerson’s best quality is his snug-ability as the best pillow ever for his 10-year-old head. Greta believes he likes to wrestle her and roll her down snowy hills because she is only 62 pounds at 8 years old and he is 78 pounds at 4 years old. I’m just glad he found us. Cheers for puppy love in 2020.

Heather Ehrman 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 10 and 8.Please check out her novel True North, website, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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