It’s been over a year since I started my current job. Like any other job, there are ups and downs; good days and bad days; days when I’m ready to quit and pay my rent training the canines of the wealthy Westchesterites (Weschesterans? Westchesterers?) and days when I come home glowing from a major accomplishment. I know, I know – most of you can’t fathom how somebody who works with 30 Golden Retrievers on a daily basis could possibly have a bad day. Trust me, it’s not the dogs that cause the bad days (exceptions: diarrhea, vomiting, and behavioral issues do account for about 5% of all bad days). Lately, though, I’ve been having a tough time finding pleasure in my day-to-day job. The bad days have outweighed the good for whatever reason – usually because of office politics, bruised egos (my own or others’), and general frustrations. I’ve been struggling and I realized today that I had lost sight of the bigger picture. I realized that despite all of my frustrations, despite all of the drama and egos and stress and disenchantment that I have grown enormously as a person because of this job.
Today I watched as the latest group of trainer trainees worked with the latest group of disabled clients. I saw myself a year ago in their shoes. I watched them trip over themselves to help these people, to grab the leash, command the dog, not realizing that these are the behaviors that foster dependence, not the independence that the clients crave so much. We are providing service dogs, not service humans, so unless they want to go home and live with these clients, they better step back. I watched them become frustrated as the clients “ruined” “their” dogs. The dogs challenged these clients who can’t move their arms, legs, or speak clearly. The dogs pulled, they refused the retrieve, they ignored the clients and I watched the trainers jump to the rescue to get the dog’s attention, give treats, give commands, prove that “their” dogs new the commands. I used to do that. I used to jump to the rescue but today I stood back and watched trusting that the process would work itself out, as I’ve seen happen repeatedly over the past year.
In the past year, I may have become a better dog trainer, though that’s not obvious. I may have become a better teacher, a better volunteer manager, or a better office organizer (also not obvious). The most obvious thing I’ve learned in the past year is patience. It took 25 years, but, Mom, look! I am actually patient. I realized this as I watched one trainer after another give up in frustration working with a particular client with physical and vocal limitations. This client cannot pet the dog, she cannot produce treats or toys, she cannot move her own wheelchair. However, this client is mentally incredibly nimble and bright. She knows all the commands, but it can take up to 3 minutes for her to produce them orally. It is so tempting to just spit it out, just tell the dog what to do, try to put the words into her mouth in the hopes that saying them before her will make her say them faster. Instead, I wait. The door may close 3 times before we get the sequence of commands to get through it, but I’ve got time. And here’s the kicker – I absolutely adore working with her and admire her as the woman that she is. And tonight, as I was leaving for the evening, she said to me with a huge smile on her face “You are so good at your job, you’ve taught me so much, you actually listen to me, and I am lucky that you’re working with me.” Ladies and gentleman, that is what I’ve learned this year and that is why, no matter what, I love my