Written by Alice Munley
Life, at times, may throw any of us an unexpected curve. It happens when we least expect it. An abrupt detour appears! Ready or not, major decisions must be made.
And so it has happened for Cam’O, our service dog in training. In June we received the official word that Cam’O was to be released from the Paw Pals Assistance Dogs puppy-raising program due to his medical condition. We were caught off guard. We did not expect that news at this time—perhaps in the fall after his next scheduled evaluation by the neurologist, but not now.
It was tough news to receive at this time. Intellectual and emotional reactions differ widely. Cam’O had been doing fantastically well in his training since January and had continued to gain strength and present as a healthy and typical puppy of his age.
“After raising several puppies for various service organizations, we understand that there are no guarantees for placement of any dog in that organization’s field of service. ”
It’s important to note here that when we raise a service dog puppy we attempt to be prepared for just about anything. Every puppy is different. Every puppy presents varying challenges. There’s no question that Cam’O has presented different challenges for us in the area of health, with his apparently rare physical affliction. It has meant a schedule of daily medications.
After raising several puppies for various service organizations, we understand that there are no guarantees for placement of any dog in that organization’s field of service. Dogs can be released due to temperament as well as health. In Cam’O’s case, it is his health issue, as described in the previous Cam’O blog (“Cam’O’s Challenge”). Going forward, our hope, and the reason for continuing his training after the initial diagnosis, was that this condition could and would be overcome.
We have always heard comments and questions regarding the difficulty in raising a service dog puppy and knowing that in time we must return the puppy for formal training and placement. It’s not easy to say our good-byes to any of these dogs after 12-14 months or more of bonding with them. We train, love, and care for these puppies 24/7, and they do, indeed, become solid fixtures in our homes and lives. However, we raise these puppies for a special reason. We raise them with the hope that they will move on to make a positive difference in service to a member of our communities. We do all this knowing that their time in our home is limited and we accept that 100%. This is a volunteer job we accepted, as there is a great need in society for a large variety of service dogs.
How do we accept the news that this wonderfully maturing dog, raised from a rambunctious tiny ball of fluff, will not get the chance to fulfill the life of a service dog for someone in need? It has been hard to now realize that the dog we spent countless hours loving, teaching, training, socializing and more, for nearly 18 months, cannot continue into advanced training for service work because of this physical condition. The prognosis suggests, that even though Cam’O is now in remission, there are no guarantees that a relapse could not occur at sometime in the future. It is an unknown. As a service organization Paw Pals Assistance Dogs cannot take a risk when placing a service dog. We understand their concerns. We would never want to see a dog placed, with an individual in need, that might have a chance for physical failure at any time in the future.
Our hope, of course, was that Cam’O would continue on this currently successful path until his next visit with the neurology veterinarian in October. At that time he was to receive a full re-evaluation of his situation and what we believed would have been a decision on his future as a service dog. We believed there was a strong chance that he would come off some medication at that time and the remainder of the medication in the months following that appointment. If there was no relapse he could be off the medicine permanently. Could his originally diagnosed condition return? There are no definitive answers to that question at this time. We would not want to see Cam’O placed as a service dog if his affliction could possibly return and leave him unable to perform his job as a service dog. It’s important that he would be fully able 100% of the time with no concerns of a possible relapse.
“Our hope for Cam’O now is a new path that will provide him the opportunity to use his great skills and talents, coupled with his unconditional love and understanding, in a manner to serve others. ”
Long story short, Cam’O is now our family pet. Yes, he continues taking medication. We were fortunate and are very thankful that Paw Pals Assistance Dogs provided the funds for his medication since last October. We have now personally taken on those expenses as well as all veterinary care.
Cam’O will miss his regular visits to a variety of stores and multiple establishments as well as his twice-monthly puppy class. He loved “dressing” in his red puppy coat. He seemed to know that the puppy coat meant an outing. He’s uncertain for now as to why he does not get to go with us nearly every time we leave the house. Of course he’s happy to stay with his big sisters, but he still thinks he belongs with mom & pop when we grab the car keys and head out of the house. We, too, miss taking him with us as we venture out for errands or a little fun. He was always a very popular fellow. There will be many questions and we will do our best to answer them intellectually and without emotion. But yes, we’re sad that his future as a service dog has ended.
This is a sad story today, but the sun will come out tomorrow and in time shine brighter and brighter. Our hope for Cam’O now is a new path that will provide him the opportunity to use his great skills and talents, coupled with his unconditional love and understanding, in a manner to serve others. There are many other jobs for him, not the least being a therapy dog. Our first goal now for Cam’O is to have him tested and registered as a therapy dog. The testing appointment is already scheduled. Our life has been altered, as he cannot come with us everywhere we go. We will seek out functions that welcome dogs, as continued socializing is an important and great benefit.
Our thanks go out to all who have loved and supported Cam’O across the miles. I only wish you could have met and petted him personally, and perhaps you will someday. A personal experience with Cam’O is what the first graders thoroughly loved for two consecutive years. All that soft fluff was a treat for them to run their fingers through and Cam’O loved it. It has been a truly wonderful experience for Cam’O and one I hope can continue as he serves others in the capacity of a therapy dog, under my care and direction. Next year? We plan to continue volunteering in first grade, but this time Cam’O will be in the role of a therapy dog.