There is nothing like the cold, crisp January air and the smell of dog shit to wake you up at 6:00 a.m. That is how I was woken this morning. Of course, I woke to the sound of the alarm clock, but is one truly awake before they’ve smelled the dog’s morning dump? That is a smell that will definitely clear your sinuses. Regardless, I am happy to get up early enough to put on boots, a fleece jacket, a coat, and gloves, let Saul out of his kennel and take him for his morning “walk.” We were finally told that we would be able to pick Saul up from 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio on December 21st. Naturally, with the ups and downs of a life lived with a special needs child, plans change at the drop of a hat. We were told only two days before picking up Saul that he’d finally be coming home. Could we meet in Rotary Park in Xenia, Ohio for a “tracking” practice with such short notice. Without knowing for sure, I said that we definitely could and then asked my boss for that day off. I figured, if she said, “no” that I could always just send Donnie and Thatcher who would both be out of school for winter break. Fortunately, though, she said, “yes” and Saul would come home.
We got to Rotary Park thinking that we had this dog thing down. We’d get through these “tracks” (where Saul searches for Thatcher and finds him, in case he should wander off) and we’d practice at home. We’d be just fine. I mean, we were doing well in the hotel, so why not at home?
But there is more to learning how to “dog” than those two weeks of advanced training. There is so much more. For example, how does one “dog proof” their home? Having never had a dog in adulthood and therefore, never being responsible for one, I really didn’t have any idea. I knew that it wasn’t like with a baby where you make sure they can’t open the cabinets, doors, toilets, etc. Dogs really don’t care about your power outlets, so no need for those plastic inserts. But we would soon find out what would be necessary to “dog proof” our home.
And then there is the poop. Oh my god, the poop! How do you read the signs of when your dog has to go? How do you know if he’s sitting next to the door to cool off or when he really needs to go? He’s a highly trained, sophisticated service dog, so there is no way that he will be outside for any length of time beyond play/exercise time. He’s not like a farm dog that can come in and out of the house as he pleases.
So, the first few nights of Saul’s homecoming were highly stressful. Not to mention, he had been given some treats that we had not been giving him, so his tummy wasn’t feeling 100%. We also gave him the wrong kind of Fresh Pet (different flavor than the trainers were using) for our first practice “track” that we did at home, so that exasperated the tummy issues.
And then there was Christmas. We had to get through Christmas. That was really stressful. It was pretty easy to get through that Saturday, December 23rd at my in-law’s house, but there aren’t as many of them as my side of the family. Then on Sunday, we went out to Target and then to Five Guys for some food and Saul and Thatcher did great. The previous Friday, Thatcher, Donnie, and Saul joined me at work for the annual holiday luncheon and then we left in time to take Thatcher to his speech therapy appointment. Thatcher still wasn’t quite sure about having Saul back. I mean, from his perspective, Saul could disappear again, so he was having a tough time when we went to his speech therapy appointment. This, along with issues at the school the previous week caused one of Thatcher’s worst outbursts that he’s ever had during Christmas at my family’s house.
Naturally, with all of this added stress, Donnie took it out on, well, everyone around him when we went to my family’s Christmas. Saul had already had an “accident” in the house that morning and the day before, he didn’t want to follow any of his commands, and we had just put around 25 people into a small, three bedroom house for Christmas dinner, which came later than we expected and only furthered the stress that Donnie, Thatcher, Saul, and I were all feeling.
And boy were we glad when Christmas was over. Even Donnie was happy to be taking down the Christmas tree, though Thatcher loves the lights and thought they should stay just a bit longer. I am glad to have more room in my living room and glad that we are better learning how to keep good control over Saul. We have taken to putting him in his kennel at night because he prefers to wander about the apartment at night to see what he can get into. We tried just letting him sleep in Thatcher’s room, but after he attempted to eat a decorative crystal rock (he didn’t swallow any of it, thank god), that is definitely a thing of the past. Nope, Saul is a good dog, but he’s still a dog. We have learned that the hard way and though I am glad for the wonderfulness he has brought into our lives and most especially Thatcher’s, Saul is still a dog. That is what we have all had to learn, seeing as how, aside from a cat that I had when Donnie and I first met, neither of us have had to care for a furry animal in adulthood.