I‘d put off writing Nike’s graduation letter for months. One rainy, stormy August evening a mere two weeks before placement, though, I knew it was time to say goodbye as he made final preparations to begin his life with his forever human.
As a professional working K-9 and Service Dog trainer, I can definitely say Service Dog Nike’s graduation letter is the hardest I’ve ever written, but you know what they say: the more painful the journey, the sweeter the victory. Nike was a donation to our program and he came to me a hot mess. Over the months, he and I toiled, labored, cried and laughed together making slow, but steady, progress. He was the hardest dog I’ve ever worked with, but seeing him with his person for the first time made it all worth it.
There are some things in Service Dog Nike’s graduation letter you won’t understand unless you were there, but the emotion, the growth and the friendship is clear no matter what.
For the longest time, I didn’t think I was going to miss you. You were (and are) big, goofy, stupid and slow. I relished the end of our journey and I looked forward to the time I could “give you away,” as it were and send you off to be a forever friend, helper and partner. For months you and I labored together to learn tasks that seemed to be insurmountable. While you struggled SOOO much, you never gave up and you approached every single task, session and day with a giant grin and a heart-felt exuberance. You have truly worked harder than any service dog in training I’ve ever worked with and your hard work and dedication shows in every move you make.
You have matured so much. When you came to me, you were ridiculous. You didn’t know your name, you wouldn’t pick anything up to save your life and you were obese, sick and under socialized. Over the past 6 months, I have had the privilege and honor of watching you blossom and grow into the dog you were always meant to be. You have become a dog almost anyone would be thrilled to own — as long as they could overlook your general blond airheadedness, of course. You are responsive, obedient, quick to help and above all else, intuitive, loyal and full of unconditional love.
As your placement and graduation day nears, the conflicting emotions almost feel as if they’re going to tear me apart! I will truly and honestly miss so many things about you, including your ability to make me smile no matter the kind of day I’ve had. If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s that you’re happy, all the time, no matter what.
You have taught me so much about so many things, ranging from training to problem solving to embracing life with all four feet on the ground and tail wagging, no matter how hard the task may seem or how impossible the concepts may be.
Your solution to every problem, no matter how big or insurmountable, is to pick up the nearest object and wag your tail so violently that at times, I feared you were going to break your back. Your trademark “Does this fix it?” approach has made me laugh through the tears more times than I can count . . . . and has made me want to pinch your head off at others!
I have trained hundreds of dogs and I can honestly say that few have made the impression you have. I have shed tears, forfeited sleep, lost blood and appeared in front of judges and prosecutors over you. I have fought for you when I would not have fought for others and I have supported you when you thought you could not pick up one more single thing EVER. I have walked you where no Golden Retriever has ever walked before and it is with you that I have shared some of the most memorable parts of my summer. For months on end, it has been you by my side and our journey, our dance, is one of the most unique I’ve ever encountered.
No matter how many come after you, dearest Nike, I will not ever forget you, your happiness, your loyalty or the size of your heart. You know I’ve said it a million times to your face and so I won’t hesitate to say it again here: you’re dumb as a box of rocks and slower than molasses in January. What you lack in intelligence, though, you make up for ruggedly handsome good looks and the sweetest personality. You possess the fortitude and desire to overcome the obstacles thrown in your way and you have the big, goofy grin to make those guiding you think it’s worthwhile to help.
Nike, as I prepare to send you to your final placement with the boy of your dreams, know that you take a small piece of me with you. Far from being just “another service dog in training,” you were my special project driven by the sheer willpower to watch you succeed. I know that you will do right not only by me, but also by the entire VILLAGE of people it has taken to help you flourish. I also do not have a doubt in my mind that you and your boy will be friends forever, truly bound together by not only fate, but by a match made in Heaven.
In two weeks, you will leave my care forever. I cannot deny that I’m happy to see you moving on to the next chapter in your life, but neither can I deny that I will honestly and truly miss you like I have missed few others.
Goodbye, my sweet, happy, big, dumb Nike . . . . . and always remember the meaning behind your name: When it doesn’t make sense after the millionth time, JUST DO IT.
Your trainer and forever friend,