Ethel, my mother-in-law, and myself were given the generous gift of appearing at the Service Dog Project Annual Fest to speak about the impact Ethel has had on my life. A weekend is not long enough to speak of her help, her affirmation of my own strength, and the continual gift she’s been to me.
The three of us boarded our first plane ride together in St. Louis and unsurprisingly, Ethel did fantastic on the flight. Her legs are too long to be laying down when people are walking on the aisle, so I had Ethel stand up on the courtesy free seat Southwest Airline had given us. She put her front paws on the seat and towered over the aisles as she watched passengers awkwardly climb over each other to get to their seats. If she was thinking like I was, then she too was judging their choice of airline attire of each passenger.
I painted her toes for the flight and tied a big pink ribbon around her neck that she wore for the crowd at SDP as well. It is absolutely, 100% not her personality to be near anything pink, let alone suffer through a pedicure of “Petal Pink” polish. But it’s my personality to do all this and, well, she didn’t stop me.
We landed in Boston and made our way through the notorious Boston traffic. My mother-in-law had never traveled east of PA and was enthralled in the river and harbors of the city. After touring Boston and taking the obligatory “holding a tea bag over the Boston Harbor” tourist pictures, we made our way to Crazy Acres Farm. I wrote Carlene of SDP about my experience with Ethel in Boston:
“Widda Great Dane, e’erybody yor Naybuh”
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing more charming than a friendly face speaking a Boston accent. We always enjoy traveling back East, but this was our first time returning to the Boston area with Ethel. And this time, I’ve never encountered so many new “naybuhs jus’ wantin’ ta halp”.
It was incredible, heads turned, people stood, chairs were pushed in and cars stopped whenever we went by. All through downtown to north end to the back bay neighborhoods of Boston, I got offers for help from some of the friendliest Bostonians I’d ever met. People have this reaction to Ethel in the Midwest, as well, but this was a remarkably different Boston than I’d known before.
“Gawd, dat’s a huss ya got dere!” We heard over and over again, but left and right strange things were happening. First our rental car got upgraded without asking because Ethel had the bluest eyes our attendant had ever seen. Then our parking ticket for the garage got validated without needing a payment from a nice gentlemen who owned a Corgie himself. Then “wadduh” was brought out to Ethel by strangers whenever we stopped for coffee or to eat or even just to rest for little while. People moved aside in lines, mainly so they could snap photos of us. Our table at dinner was in a remote spot with beautiful scenary looking over the Harbor, while people crowded in the terrace. What was happening?
I can only deduce that Bwahstan, a favorite city already, is a city of people who appreciate relationships. Bostonians responded to the relationship I have with Ethel with the friendliness of a “naybuh”, love responding in kind to love.
I knew I gained a travel buddy with Ethel. I didn’t know I’d also gain the help and kindness of hundreds of new “naybuhs” as well.
We drove north through the city and up past Beverly. Ethel, usually enjoying a nap in the backseat while traveling, suddenly popped her head out the window sniffing the air as we approached the turn in to the farm. Then the tail began to swing and as we approached the gate to the farm, her whole body began to wiggle with excitement. She was back.
When I met Ethel, she wasn’t so much a fan of other people as she just wasn’t interested in them. You don’t have a cookie for me? Then I’m not going to stay still to let you pet me. She’d sniff a person to introduce herself when a friend approached me and she’s off vest, but then she’d retreat back to my side with no interest in making friends. Although she has great social skills with dogs and humans, she’s just didn’t seem to be a very social girl. My little introvert would rather live alone with me in a cabin in the middle of the woods than sit through a doggy tea party with my friends and their dogs. Which is too bad, because that’s exactly what I love to do.
But when we hopped out of the car and were immediately greeted by Service Dog Project friends, Ethel excitedly ran from person to person to sniff hands and pockets for treats. She sniffed the other dogs with her tail wagging and ran back and forth from person or dog to me with the biggest smile. My little introvert, loving spending time in this great crowd of her family.
All weekend this continued. Ethel would be by my side when I called and when I needed her, slowing down to pull me back and forth across the Crazy Acres grounds. But as soon as I told her to go play, she’d run through the tents set up to meet everyone and use her beautiful blue eyes to swindle treats from the pockets of the SDP family. When she saw trainers Kati and Meg, I worried that maybe she’d forget that I was her human and she’d want to stay with them. But after she ran to each of her trainers, she’d gallop back to me with a huge smile as if to say “Mom! My friends! My friends are here!”
Over the weekend, her confidence mounted. At the beginning of our pairing together, I had slowly been given glimmers and a glimpse of her real personality. Over the six months we’ve been paired now, those glimmers are part of our everyday life. She’ll sassily paw at me when she wants attention or doesn’t want to do the command. She protects her friends Max the Husky and Rocco the Boxer by leading the way when they explore the parks. She likes her back scratched more than her ears. While she’ll walk away from Dusty when he offers a hand for rubbing, she’ll lean against him firmly to make sure he’ll scratch her back when she wants it and come to him when he calls. Her favorite position for sleeping is her head hanging over her bed and her arms and legs outstretched, groaning and grunting like an old man all night.
This wasn’t the Ethel I met my first time at Crazy Acres but this is the real Ethel that I know the SDP family knew and loved from her birth. And now I know her too.
I promised a surprise in my last post and I announced the news during the “Question & Answer” session of the Fest. I’m so thankful for all the encouragement I’ve been given in my writing by all you and more and I am happy to say that your kind words were not unheard. I have written a book!