There are moments, people, and puppies that will last a lifetime in one’s memory. Paco-Taco, as affectionately called by his raisers from The Guiding Eyes, is definitely imprinted on my heart. A 2-year old yellow lab, impeccably trained, came to TESSD as a career change to become a Psychiatric Service Dog. Immediately evident is the love and care that Paco received his entire life. Imagine the happiest dog you have ever seen, multiply that tenfold – and you just might have the full picture of his personality- a big boy at 74 pounds lean, standing quite tall, all playful, with the cutest wiggly body as his tail swings back and forth so much I swear I thought his back end would start to fly!
Paco snuck up on both Beau and me. He was the third Service Dog in Training (SDiT) to be welcomed into our home back to back, and well we were a little tired when he first arrived. But he settled in and wormed his way quickly to become part of the family. He helped celebrate my son’s 29th birthday. The way he loved on Mark it was like he was his long lost friend. This making perfect sense as he was raised by a 15 year old boy who adored him. Paco then spent time at Dan the GED trainer’s house due to COVID, reinforcing his training before coming to The Exceptional Sidekick.
I feel so privileged to have been asked to be his foster home for a week and take him for a test run! Oh the places we will go! City life in New Haven here we come. Paco showed off all his talents as we shopped LL Bean and the Yale Bookstore. No squealing bus, ambulance siren, or bouncing obnoxious delivery truck even caught his attention. We walked the loud streets full of people, bikes, and babies in strollers as if they didn’t exist. He was a perfect gentleman when we settled outside at a picnic area and rested quietly next to me.
One of the things that is difficult for handlers with psychiatric disabilities are the looks and reactions of people when in public. I was prepared for this. First, I want to highlight our welcome to Starbucks in downtown New Haven. The staff and manager were polite, smiled in a way that was accepting of the service dog without actually acknowledging him or even me exactly. Does that make sense to you? When you see a service dog in public it is important to use proper etiquette. Ignore the handler and the dog, not in a rude way, but in a respectful way. Do NOT touch or interact with the dog. They are working and if you interact with them they could miss a life threatening cue to help their handler. While I encountered some ‘starring’, I was encouraged by how many people I heard say to their children – that’s a service dog, do not touch, etc. Some even use the opportunity to teach them about working dogs.
You see psychiatric disabilities are invisible and the kids we service want to stay invisible. Being in public is scary. Having a service dog in public immediately removes their invisibility cloak and draws attention, especially if they need to have their dog mitigate one of their symptoms while out. In addition, they are forever fighting for their ADA rights to bring their dog in places. Imagine, trying to be incredibly brave, leaving your house when every inch of you wants to stay inside it. You finally get to your destination only to be given a hard time about entering with your LEGAL service dog.
OK, so sorry, I digressed to my soap box. Paco, yes, my dear Paco! A week of heaven, big dog kisses, and lots of love. We practiced domestic bliss: vacuumed, baked cookies, did laundry. We did errands: Costco, Pet Store, Dollar Store. Beau and Paco played tug of war, chase, who can eat their food the fastest to maybe get some of the other’s leftovers (no winner – lol). Beau loves visitors, but he also loves me. He is my emotional support dog and there are a few things he finds hard to share. One being my bed (ok, sometimes even with me). Most remarkable, Paco even won his heart as the last few nights with us he was ‘invited’ on the bed. (Service dogs are not allowed on furniture unless invited.) Paco-Taco, now affectionately called by Beau and me as well, has melted our hearts.
Now, to answer the biggest question from friends, family, and Facebook – “how will you ever give him up?” My answer is simple. I am not giving him up. I am ‘paying him forward’. Every dog that staycations at my house leaves with a little piece of my heart. But, they leave to make another person’s heart and life whole again. The absolute love and joy that I had the honor of witnessing when his handler met Paco for the first time overflowed that little hole in my heart. So, my heart is ready for the next service dog in training to take that piece with it.