Sherlock, the Golden Retriever I’m raising to become a diabetic alert dog, will be a year old in November. I love the boy, but there were hard days. Like the time I left my camera on the outside patio couch while I ran inside to use the restroom. When I returned, my camera was sitting in the middle of the backyard. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but dirt is not good for cameras. Not at all. Luckily I have a lense cleaning kit, and it all turned out fine, but thinking back to what might’ve happened to my beloved Nikon makes my jaw clench.
Impulse control has always been a struggle for Sherlock. So, we work on it often. Whenever we arrive at Hulda Crooks Park for a hike, he vibrates with excitement. He cannot wait to run free on the trails. But, I’ve taught him that an open car door means wait, not run. So, he sits and stares at me in an attempt to bore his desire to be OUT OF THE CAR IMMEDIATELY into my mind. However, that crazy Golden does not step one foot outside the car until I say “Free!”
The other place he loves is the wash behind my house. When I head toward the back fence signaling it’s time for a walk, he is filled with crazy dog joy that includes barking, running and joyfully attacking my Lab Kinsey. So, we’ve started practicing impulse control there too. I make Sherlock and Kinsey sit on the grass in front of the patio and wait until I reach the back fence. Sometimes I walk slow. Sometimes I jog. I often look back at them. Finally, I turn and yell, “Free!” At this, Kinsey and Sherlock both run toward me as hard as they can, thrilled to be set loose.
At least, this is the goal. When we first began this exercise, Sherlock couldn’t stand it. Before I could reach the back fence, he would break his wait and run toward me. But, he’d hear my NO! and make a full speed U-turn. (It makes me smile everytime I think of it! I’d never seen a dog do a full speed U-turn. Not until Sherlock.) Then, right back to the grass he’d go and sit, focus on me total, until he heard the magic word, “Free!”
These practice sessions have turned Sherlock into the very best kind of dog. He listens. He tries. He wants to please. We’ve come to trust and understand each other. So, when one of the science teachers asked me to be a chaperone on a science and technology field trip in Riverside, I decided that Sherlock was well behaved enough to handle it.
I will admit to hesitating. Not only would it be Sherlock’s first time on a bus, but I’d never been on this particular trip so I didn’t know what to expect. In addition to Sherlock, I’d also be in charge of 10 seventh and eighth graders. Quite a lot for a Thursday.
When the day arrived, I met my students in the quad and we headed to the bus. Sherlock loaded up just fine, and tucked himself under the seat in front of me for the thirty minute ride. He kept his head up, interested in everything that went on around him.
Whenever I go out with Sherlock I get a lot of questions, and our bus driver that day was no exception. What does he do? Are you diabetic? Is he an Irish Setter? Can I pet him? (The answer to this is no. He’s learning how to work in public, not solicit attention from strangers.)
We all arrived safe and sound, and headed into a large auditorium for a science show. In order to make it exciting for children, there was music blaring and balloons were flying from one end of the auditorium to the other. Sherlock was a bit anxious as children screamed and lunged for the balloons, but after about twenty minutes he got used to all of the noise and settled down at my feet for a power nap.
For the second part of the field trip Sherlock, ten students and I roamed around and checked out different science booths with thousands of other kids. It was close quarters, lots of activities and unusual noises. People touched him without asking. But, Sherlock stayed at heel, and kept his focus on me. He was so good, in fact, that there were times I forgot he was there. He was my shadow–calm, quiet and attentive.
On the bus ride home, he passed out. If I weren’t in charge of children, I’d have taken a nap too.
I don’t know who be lucky enough to end up with Sherlock, but I hope they love him. They’re getting one amazing fellow.