Every year I say, “I’m not going to cry.”And every year I do.That’s the nature of the graduation ceremony for Saint Francis Service Dogs.
Graduation is when all the people who have been matched with a Saint Francis Service dog in the given calendar year, come together to celebrate the dog’s graduation from trainee to full-fledged service dog.It is an incredibly happy time – where nearly everybody cries.
We cry because we can’t believe the stories we are hearing – about how a dog not only changed someone’s life, but how it seems to be the only thing worked.
Children with autism, who never spoke until the arrival of their dog.Parents who know a seizure is about to happen, because the dog alerts minutes before the symptoms arrive.Adults who can live alone because the dog can get the phone or go for help if there is a medical emergency.
I’ve been fortunate enough to emcee every graduation since the first one in 1998, and this year the stories were as amazing as ever.
Particularly touching this year was a speech by an ordained Episcopal Deacon named Leslie whose dog, Titus accompanies her to work and helps her at home.A simple story about how she was trying to reach a AAA battery in the back of a closet captured everyone’s attention.She was reaching from her electric wheelchair, and though she was unable to secure her prize, at least she was able to try – because Titus was there to either bring her a phone if she fell, or to support her if she wanted to pull herself back up.That’s the kind of independence that comes with a service dog.
But the tears started flowing when we heard the story of young Claire who has mitochondrial disease.Claire has been to the doctor so many times in her young life that she has developed a childhood version of post-traumatic stress disorder.She was so scared of doctors, tests and needles that it was almost impossible to restrain her for treatment.Then Jazz, a Saint Francis Standard Poodle came into her life.Claire was unable to attend the graduation, because she was hospitalized just days before.But her mother sent a heartfelt note, explaining how Jazz was doing his job, “being with his girl.”It told of how Claire overcame her fear of the doctor because Jazz was at her side.Just then, we showed a slide of a little girl in a hospital bed, with tubes coming out of her nose and mouth, and there in the bed beside her was Jazz.
It was more than I could take.More than anyone could take.Everyone reached for a tissue.But that’s ok.That’s what it is all about.That’s why we have service dogs.