There have been quite a few unforgettable memories in my lifetime that stand out in my head. You know those kinds of memories where you remember every single detail even though years and years have gone by? That’s what I’m talking about. This one particular occurrence happened about ten years ago, and it has completely changed my life for the better. Here’s the story of Fred.
When I was eleven years old, I received the news that I was eligible for a service dog from Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization from Alpharetta, Georgia that trained dogs to help. I was so ecstatic to hear this. I have always been a huge dog lover, and had recently learned about how I could benefit from a service dog. Before I knew it, my bags were packed and my parents and I were flying down to Alpharetta to participate in a two-week training program at Canine Assistants. Little did I know that I was about to meet my best friend.
When we started our very first day, our initial task was to greet every dog (by saying their names) individually at their cages. These dogs seemed extremely unenthused by my greetings, and if I could have read their minds, they were probably thinking, “Just get me out of here”. Then, finally, I approached this golden retriever, looked for his name tag, and let out a cheerful, “Hi Fred!” Fred quickly stood up in his cage and started wagging his tail frantically, a reaction I hadn’t received from any of the dogs yet. I immediately called my parents over to tell them what just happened and how excited I was by his response. Although I didn’t realize it then, that was the moment Fred chose me.
The next couple of days consisted of intense training with all of the dogs at the camp, and I loved every single second of it. While some dogs didn’t want to listen to my commands and just wanted to lick my face, others (including Fred) were very attentive to what I was saying. It was rather interesting to observe because the dogs that didn’t listen to my commands were completely obedient to another recipient. It’s almost as if they chose us before we chose them. Based on their astounding intelligence and willingness to help humans, I wouldn’t be surprised.
When it came time to be paired with a dog, my heart was set on Fred. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because the ultimate decision was up to the professionals and dog trainers, my parents tried to tell me I should be prepared if Fred wasn’t the one for me. I didn’t want to listen. Even though we were only together for a few days, Fred and I shared this unexplainable connection and I knew he had to be mine. Sure enough, when the woman was pairing up the recipients with their new sidekicks, she looked at me and said, “Wow. I can’t think of a better match…Alyssa Silva and Fred”. I will never forget the way I felt at that exact moment.
Fred and I continued to train with each other at the camp for the remainder of the two weeks. There were written tests for the recipients, outings, agility courses, you name it. We did it all like partners in crime. We learned countless commands, saw Apollo 13 in the IMAX Theater, did a little shopping, and socialized in restaurants in downtown Atlanta. Fred even had to get a bath one day because he decided to roll around in the Georgia clay after it had rained. He’s always been a little crazy. As hard as it was to leave Alpharetta, I was so excited to bring my dog home and show off just how smart he was to the entire world.
Over the past ten years, Fred and I have created an inseparable bond like no other. I swear sometimes we can even understand what each other is thinking. I realize this makes me sound a little crazy, but it’s true. Aside from the regular commands Fred has been taught, he has also learned to understand me on an emotional level. The past few months that I have been sick, he quickly realized something wasn’t right with me. Every morning around 5am, he would come in my room while I was sleeping and put his snout in my face to check up on me. As annoying and startling as it was, I couldn’t get mad because I knew he was worried about me. Fred finally realized one morning that if he hopped up onto my couch, he could watch over me until I wake up. And that’s exactly what he does now. I have a third shift nurse that leaves every morning at 6am and, like clockwork, Fred always comes strolling in around 5:57. He even tries to push my nurse off the couch, implying that it’s his turn to take over. It’s quite amazing that he knows.
Because of the vigorous training we went through, Fred has always stayed by my side and made sure I’m well taken care of. I’m number one in his life. Canine Assistants was surely an experience I’ll never forget, and I couldn’t be more thankful that they gave me this dog. I guess I never realized how much a dog can impact your life until I met Fred. A part of me would love to start a service dog nonprofit organization up here in New England. A huge part of me. Fred has given me nothing but love and companionship throughout the years, and I want other people to have that same exact feeling more than anything. These dogs are extraordinary.