I wake up this morning, like any other, and realize that nothing has changed. You wake up with a stretch and a yawn and a dozen enthusiastic tail wags and a scratch and a vocal cue that it is really time to go outside now… and nothing has changed for you, either.
But Jenny, my wonderful, enthusiastic, sassy, intelligent, impulsive, quirky guide dog… You’re FIVE YEARS OLD today! You may not know the significance of this day, beyond the fact that today you get to go for a long run in the dog park (weather permitting), get to spend some time hanging out with some of your favourite people, and enjoy a brand new beef bone and a brand new squeaker ball… but even the idea of this day leaves me breathless.
It started about a month ago on the bus. I get asked regularly about you, Jenny… about what breed you are and how long we’ve been a team and how old you are. The first time I uttered the phrase “She’ll be five in…” I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth.
Five years old!
But it’s more than this.
About the time I started realizing that your FIFTH birthday was coming up the very same week I started a shiny new job, I looked back at our journeys and how truly, truly interconnected they really are, and always have been.
Let’s remember, shall we?
When you were born, on March 4, 2012, I was working in an office at a job I loved fiercely. What I didn’t yet know was how much my job would change over the next couple of weeks. I still loved my job, my coworkers, and some of the new changes… but I wasn’t doing the job I was originally hired to do. These changes opened up doorways to my future, just as you would in the years to come; they also gave birth to the advocate in me, something I would need when fighting for access rights, employment, and personal autonomy.
When you were six months old – getting bigger, learning new things, eating pages out of library books – I knew my time at that job would soon come to an end. Growing is painful, and necessary. Change is painful and necessary. But As I was struggling and wriggling out of the safe cocoon of that long-time job, you were getting bigger and changing and taking steps forward and backward and forward again. By the time you turned ten months old, I had turned my face to the wind and waited to embrace new employment opportunities.
You grew bigger and stronger, still curious about life. You lost interest in library books and gained interest in training. You made mistakes but were given the opportunity for another chance to make things right. I’ve since learned how very very important this is to you.
You started advanced training in May 2013. At this time, after months of searching, I started work at a call center for a pizza restaurant. I enjoyed the work and the flexibility it offered (enough flexibility to enable us to train together and still keep my job). I know you enjoyed time with your boarder and her dog and time spent with your brother and the other dogs in the training van – everyone told me so.
I got the call that you and I were a match just two days before my birthday. I couldn’t think of a better present. That summer was a challenge for our little family, but we were all excited about welcoming you to it.
I remember our first walk – just after our first meeting – like it was yesterday. You went FAST! This little spitfire of a black lab was going to give me a run for my money. All I remember thinking was… why is this dog swerving? When I learned that you were avoiding all of those poles along the sidewalk that my cane hit on a regular basis, just because that’s what you were trained to do. Our speed, your precise movements… I knew you were the best dog for me. We started training the day before you turned 18 months old.
From that point on, we’ve been a team. Sometimes we’ve been so in tune with each other that I can’t believe we’ve only known each other for 3.5 years – think running along the paths of our neighborhood, our trip to New York City, or going through a sudden job loss and more job interviews than I can count. Sometimes our communication clearly sucks – one of us clearly doesn’t want to listen (and usually it’s me). You communicate so effectively that I swear you could learn English if you wanted to – from telling me a best friend is at the door, to signalling your painful allergy symptoms, to groaning your boredom during long meetings… no one needs a Jenny dictionary. You’ve made dozens of friends – both human and dog – and won them all over with your charming personality, your big brown eyes, and open heart. You may never understand what you’ve brought to me. Even this past week in navigating a new office, you’ve impressed me with your willingness to just go with your gut and see if we’re going the right way – and by the end of the week, we’re not lost in a maze of hallways and cubicles anymore.
Jenny, my girl… I want to be just like you when I grow up. I want to love my routine but be ok with sudden changes. I want to make snap decisions, right or wrong, and follow the path I take – because my gut (and yours) is usually right. I want to love openly and completely, with no reservations, qualifications, or expectations beyond time, presence, and returned affection. I want to be so joyous that the world will know that it’s a beautiful place… and I want my joy to be so evident that a rare grumpy day will be just as obvious.
I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without you. As much as guide dog training taught us to work together, you taught me even more about life. You’ve taught me to let go of my rigid expectations, to go with the flow. You’ve shown me that you can make mistakes – even big ones – and learn from them if you don’t give up. You’ve shown me that it’s OK to be scared but to face your fears anyway. Over the years, we’ve faced some scary situations – from cars pulling out in front of us, to a fight breaking out around us, to the sudden sound of automatic hand dryers. We’ve been through them together. You’ve literally saved my life more than once – from speeding buses or creepy people who want to pick me up at bus stops. You’ve left such a mark on my life and my heart that just last week I got a tattoo of your pawprint with your name inside it. It’s a visible reminder of all the things you’ve given to me so selflessly. I can’t wait to see what the next five years of our journey will bring!
Since I can’t give you cake, a ball and a wrestle and a snuggle will have to do. But it doesn’t seem nearly enough.
Happy birthday, Jenny Pen. Here’s to many more.
With all my love.
P.s. HUGE thanks to BC and Alberta Guide Dogs, Jenny’s puppy raisers, boarders, trainers, my husband, friends, and family, and all of those who’ve loved her along our journey.
P.p.s. Pictures courtesy of BC and Alberta Guide Dogs.