"This doesn't look good, Dad."
"No, Mr. Wilson, it does not."
We arrived at the testing ground right on time. At the entrance to the parking lot was a big red van with the words K-9 Search and Rescue Team, FEMA emblazoned on the side. The only other people in the lot stood at the rear of a mini-van, the rear door open and a beautiful Golden Labrador lying in the back, perfectly poised, alert and awesome. Her "handler," stood at attention, talking with another lady who looked like she knew what she was doing.
We rolled our old Toyota Camry into the lot, Cheryl said, "oh boy," Mr. Wilson sat in his car seat in the back looking worried and I parked the car near the rear door. Two signs were posted there:
"We will get you when WE are ready!" and
"Sit down and shut up!" or something like that; the message was clear.
A perfect German Shepard named Gemma walked toward us with her handler, and we chatted for a while while we waited to be summoned. The lady was an actual dog trainer, and worked with search and rescue teams, cadaver sniffers, drug agents, the State Police and all kinds of ridiculously impressive dog teams
"Dad, what is she saying to that big dog?" asked Mr. Wilson.
"Don't know, but it sounds scary," I replied.
"They're speaking German," said Cheryl, and we watched as Gemma performed every command given to her perfectly.
"Oh boy," we said, all at the same time.
Some time later, the door to the testing chamber opened and two dejected dogs and their equally dejected handlers emerged from the shadowy depths. They failed. Then they left without a word.
We were lined up and told to enter the building, rabies certificate and $25.00 cash ready and to wait at the bottom of the stairs.
"Dad, I don't do stairs," said Mr. Wilson, shrinking into the pavement.
"Today you do, old pal."
"It's okay, Mr. Wilson," said Cheryl. "I don't do stairs either. But you can, and you will be great."
Cheryl sat at the top of the twenty steps in a folding chair that one of the testers provided and we reluctantly descended into the cold, dark basement where the testing would take place. The other dogs, Gemma and Daffodil trolloped down those stairs like they were off to the doggie park, nary a whimper from either. Me and Mr. Wilson took the leap, and before we knew it had made put the stairs behind us.
"That wasn't so bad, Dad."
The test began. There was no nonsense, just tasks to be performed. Sit/stay. Down/Stay. Separation for three minutes, no whining allowed. The 20' leash sit and stay. Distractions, People on crutches, people throwing pans, treats in hands to be ignored on command, treats on the floor to walk over and past without gobbling, greeting strangers, kids running like maniacs past us-and we couldn't budge or chase after them.
Our two classmates were perfect. And so was Mr. Wilson!
"You passed," said the instructor. "Congratulations."
I have to hand it to Mr. Wilson. He seemed to know that what we were doing was important to me and Cheryl, and he simply did what was needed to make us happy.
I don't know how he knew, we didn't really work that hard, and the test is something that some people and dogs train for for years and just can't pass, but he knew. He knew exactly what was necessary and he pulled it off. He is now a certified Therapy dog with Therapy Dogs Internationl, as well as obtaining his Canine Good Citizen award.
Not bad for an abandoned dog born in a puppy mill, bought at a pet store, neglected and abused, put on a truck, shipped from Arkansas to Rhode Island and made to live with two nutty people and two strange Maine Coon Cats.
"Can we go home now?"
"Of course we can."
"Good. I've got some squirrels to catch, and holes to dig and a home to protect."
"Good boy, Mr. Wilson. You did good."
"You too, Mom. You too, Dad."
He slept all the way home.