Shit happens

Very often when I take my servicedog (in training)  Kalle  for a walk in the morning I am still grumpy. Usually that means that it is about 6 a.m. My “alarm clock” is a black furry labradoodle who nudges me to wake up. I can feel his breath in my face. If I pretend that I am still sleeping he will start yawning loudly. This then turns into an irritated barking.

While my furry companion is ever so ready to start a new day (however early!), I first need a cup of coffee to get my engine started. Carefully I add a few pieces of chocolate. I feel that Kalle is watching me from the kitchen door. The kitchen is the only space in my flat where he is not allowed in. He literally rolls his eyes to make me get going faster. I have barely downed my coffee when he is already running to the front door and coming back  as if to say “Are you ready now? Let’s go!” The first few meters he is actually pulling me in tow until he finds relief at a garden fence. While I am still longing for the warmth of my bed Kalle pulls me through beautiful nature. On a small path we get to a recreation area. Here everything looks beautiful and the birds are singing sweetly. The sun is rising and turns everything into a pink-red light. The light becomes brighter and even I bow in front of such a beautiful sight. We are far enough away from the road so that I can let Kalle free. Usually at this “turning point” I have the choice of keeping him on the leash or letting him go. If I keep him on the leash the result often is that he nudges me during my hours of homeoffice. If I set him free I can see how he enjoys running around and sniffing his way through nature. Yet there is one more risk apart from the crossing rabbits: Kalle loves foxshit. This is usually the worst outcome of our walk together. It only crosses my mind when I call Kalle and take him on the leash again. When I touch the ring on his dog harness there seems to be a little bit of dirt on it. When I try to rub it off with a tissue I am confronted with the sweet pungent smell of foxshit. I feel nauseated. Also, I get really angry! For I know how I am going to spend the next two hours: First I have to wash the reluctantly cooperative Kalle. After having won at least this battle I have to wash myself. And even if I get to dry Kalle in time, one shaking of his fur means that this day is the perfect day to clean the bathroom! The procedure ends with me collecting all soiled items and throwing them into the washing machine.

I curse. I curse myself that I have let Kalle running around free. I try to justify my decision in front of myself  by recalling how happily my dog had run through the fresh gras- nearly flying with his two black ears propelling in the air. And it is at this moment that I begin to understand that even with all his “stupid ideas” my little companion shows me how beautiful life can be. Having a dog does not only mean that I have more work to do. Also I feel more joy in life as if the joy of this little creature was contagious. I realise that my flat will never be as “sandfree” as before I got my dog. However, recalling how my life became “richer” by our walks in nature, the meeting and greeting of other people and yet all the exercise I understand that Kalle is worth every grain of sand that he constantly carries back into my flat. J

This is my service dog Kalle. He is one year old and he is still to be trained. I do the training under the supervision of my dog trainer. While my life “before Kalle” was often a struggle to get up or even go outside-especially at the weekends I had to become more self-organized and self-disciplined. And here is the secret: I wouldn’t have done it just for myself. I believe that sometimes it is easier to do these things for another being than for oneself. Yet when Kalle is barking at the moon, old neighbours or even trash cans I frankly do not know who is helping whom here J. It seems that I have even more work on my hands and that the dog is “slow on the uptake” when “lessons” are over and we are outside. But this is not so: Like me he is distracted by millions of smells, noises and movements. And while he can bring things to me while we are in my flat he lets them fall down outside and completely forgets about them J.

Morrie Schwarz[1] once said “As a child and when you get old you need people to help you. But here is the secret: You also need people in between.” That this is more than true I realized when Kalle ran away one day: All my neighbours went in search for him. We found him and got him home safely. Later that evening I understood that Kalle had already “helped” me: Our daily walks had connected me in a positive way with my neighbours. His constant joy when he could “sniff the world outside” had pushed me out of my self-indulged isolation in my flat and the feeling that everything outside is “just too overwhelming”. Without realizing it I had looked over my wall of fear and depression and let go of the past. And even now when I have “reached” the week-end and sleep a lot because I am exhausted and overstimulated my little companion is there with me “behind that wall”. And here is what I wanted to share with you: Even when you feel it is useless and you are only giving-the animals will give it back to you. When Kalle licks my hands comfortingly or sits behind me in the queue of the supermarket to “protect” me I know that all the effort has been worth it.

[1] Albom, Mitch, Tuesdays with Morrie, New York 1997.