Monday, August 18, 2008

A Dog and His Boy

This is a story about A Dog and His Boy. Well, the dog is only three and the boy is thirteen, so only the last three years of the story are about the dog. His name is Kudzu, and he is a service dog. But Patrick isn’t blind—he has neurological disorders, and Kudzu has changed his life. Here they are Sunday morning following Liturgy at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis, where Patrick was baptized thirteen years ago.

Yes, Patrick, became a teenager last Thursday. He and his mom flew to Memphis to celebrate with his grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousins, and us. You see, they moved to Seattle when Patrick was two, about the age he is in this picture (right). When Charli asked us to be Patrick’s Godparents, she also asked me to be her labor and delivery coach, which was a first for me. Since all three of my children are adopted, this would be the closest I would get to the childbirth experience…. and it was nothing short of amazing. (Of course I was feeling no pain, just hand-holding and breathing and crying with joy when Patrick made his grand entrance into the world on August 14, 1995.)

When Patrick and his family moved to Seattle two years later, I began to buy children’s books and recorded my voice on a Fisher Price tape recorder reading them to Patrick, and mailed them to him so he wouldn’t forget me. We’ve only seen each other about once a year during this eleven-year separation, but there always seems to be an instant bond when we’re together. Okay, I’m getting soppy now, so back to the story of the Dog and His Boy.

With help from a professional service dog trainer, Patrick and his mother trained Kudzu to help Patrick with all sorts of issues. If you’d like to learn more, you can read a blog about service dogs for kids with neurological disorders, called “A Time For Love,” here. Here’s a web site where you can read more about the role of service dogs for kids, “4 Paws For Ability." And another web site that’s very informative, “Wilderwood Service Dogs,” . And an interesting news story about National Serivce Dogs is here.

Kudzu and Patrick arrived for Liturgy at St. John on Sunday morning, where I joined them in the narthex (back of the church) where we stayed during the service. After a while my Goddaughter, Sophie, joined us. She and Patrick quickly bonded as “God-siblings” and had fun teasing eachother. And Sophie did a good job of not bothering Kudzu while he was working.

Afterwards we went downstairs for coffee hour. That’s when the questions began, and I got a peek inside Patrick’s world, as curious but well-meaning folks tried to wrap their minds around the concept of a service dog for someone who isn’t blind. Patrick handled the questions with amazing poise, but after a while he asked for help keeping the crowds at bay. When Kudzu is wearing his vest, he is “working,” and shouldn’t be petted, as this distracts him from being attentive to Patrick’s needs.

But that’s hard for children (and some adults) to understand, so after a while we went outside and Patrick took off Kudzu’s vest and gave him the command, “take a break,” and Kudzu became this frisky, playful puppy.

Oh, I forgot to say that he’s a Goldendoodle. You can read more about them here.

Kudzu loves to dance. And to run races.
Finally Father Basil was ready to take us to lunch, after Sophie got in a good-bye hug.

We ate at Zinnie’s, where the staff was friendly and Kudzu behaved beautifully, sitting on the floor between Patrick’s chair and mine. (I forgot to mention that Father Basil is allergic to dogs… but he weathered the afternoon courageously!) At one point the waiter asked Patrick what kind of service his dog offered him, and Patrick’s sense of humor (he loves to tell jokes!) came through with this reply, “Oh, he just helped me get through a service this morning, as a matter of fact.” The blank expression on the waiter’s face begged for an explanation, so I jumped in with, “a church service,” and we all had a good laugh.

After lunch the birthday-gift shopping spree began. Game Stop is right around the corner from Zinnie’s so that’s where we started. I knew it would be interesting to see Father Basil (a kid at heart—aren’t all men?) in such a setting, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Wii football game was a big hit.

Patrick got into the act…

And then it became a team effort…. Until finally…
Game over.

Not finding exactly what he was looking for at Game Stop, we headed to Target, after a quick stop at Baskin Robbins. Being in a large store like Target was quite an experience, but I didn’t get my camera out. I’m sure we were quite an eyeful, with my husband in his long black cassock and Patrick with Kudzu in his service dog vest. Again I was amazed at Patrick’s good humor and poise as so many perfect strangers would stop us and ask questions. Once or twice, when it became obvious that the people were dog-lovers (one even had a Golddendoodle) Patrick would tap Kudzu on the back of his neck and say, “take a break,” and then let the people pet him.

Later I asked Charli if it was always like this, everywhere she went with Patrick and Kudzu, and she said yes, that it’s virtually impossible to run “quick errands” without being rude to people who are always staring, wanting to pet Kudzu or ask questions. It made me think about how much I take it for granted that I can be “invisible” when I want to run in and out of stores or spend some time reading or writing in a coffee shop without interacting with people when I don’t want to.

So here’s to you, Patrick, as you begin your teenage years. I’ll always love it when you call me “Gomma Susan” (for Godmother Susan) like you did when you were little, and I treasure this picture of us at your baptism.

But I also treasure the way you’re still able to be a kid at heart, like when you’re teasing me with your antics, posing us for silly pictures in the parking lot at Zinnie’s. So, Happy Birthday, Patrick, and may God grant you—and Kudzu—many years!

No comments: