Once upon a time, Matt and Maya got a mini bernedoodle puppy and named him Bruno. Despite Bruno being one of the absolute cutest puppies ever, he turned out to be more of a challenge than they anticipated and was not really ideally suited to assimilate to their lifestyle.
Since they were traveling for the summer, we offered to babysit Bruno while they were away… and then kind of kidnapped him. Sorry, you can’t have him back!
When Bruno first arrived at about 8 months old, he was full of puppy energy and kind of light on manners and so we enlisted our friend Vinny to help out. Bruno is very smart and eager to please so despite his mishief, he learned really fast and it was not long before I decided I wanted to train him as a therapy dog – go volunteer and such. Vinny was game to help out and we made a plan and a list of the behaviors he would need to pass his Canine Good Citizens test.
And then I went off the rails just a little; I had long considered what a benefit a service dog would be for Cole, but going through a program is $30-$50k+ AND there are years long waitlists – never mind the fact that many of the program dogs only accept applicants younger or older than Cole – or are hundreds of miles away. THEN I found out that the ADA does not actually require service dogs to be “certified” or go through one of those programs at all – you can owner train! Hmmm…
I asked Vinny if he thought we could try it and his response was “I’m down let’s do it! If you go off the deep end, I’ll follow you.”
With Vinny on board – and Cole’s developmental pediatrician in agreement that this was a good idea – we went full steam ahead. We practiced,
and practiced some more.
Bruno learned how to heel (mostly) and behave (kind of), and provide support for Cole’s needs. He even went to service dog boot camp with Sheera for a week to be put through his paces.
We visited the school multiple times over the summer to acclimate both boys to this new environment.
In the meantime, I had been speaking with the district and making sure that they were as ready as they could be on their end. This would be the first service dog in the school, and obviously our first attempt at training a service dog. We navigated the logistical challenges, paved the way for communication, and hoped for the best.
I will be completely honest and say that Bruno is decidedly NOT a valedictorian service dog. He is not going to be the poster child for obedience, but is a solid C+ student and *does* meet the requirements under the ADA. In the first 2 weeks of school, both the principal and one of the vice principals, as well as the head of special ed for the district observed Bruno and Cole and reported that they were doing great.
To back up just a little bit, this is something of a miracle – even dogs who are bred over many generations and go through the fancy training programs have a fairly high washout rate. The fact that we seem to have gotten away with this is kind of AMAZING. (Seriously, Adam should maybe be a little bit afraid of me – apparently I can do ANYTHING.)
And then Bruno broke his streak of good behavior and while he has not been expelled, I will owe some of the faculty and staff some very nice holiday gifts this year for their patience and kindness.
While Cole is in gym, Bruno must wait in a crate in the PE office. Unfortunately, he decided he was lonely in there and *chewed his way out* (it was a soft sided portable crate – it’s not quite as impressive a jalbreak as if he was in a standard metal one) and then hopped up on the table to get and chew on his leash… We replaced the crate with a metal one, and he managed to bend THAT and make his displeasure at being left alone audibly obvious to anyone in the vicinity of the gym.
So for now, Bruno and Cole are walking laps together for gym while we figure out the best approach moving forward. They will also need to learn to manage the school bus because I’m not going to be a chauffeur for the entirety of the school year.
But mostly? MOSTLY, both boys are exceeding expectations with this transition to high school. Thank you, Bruno.