Jumping the Wall
When Camelot was still a young fellow, we came across a wall I knew had to be jumped. Both literally and metaphorically. For you see, Camelot is my second service dog. He is also a standard poodle, full blooded. Poodles, as a breed, do not transfer loyalty. In other words, the person who trains and bonds with them will always be their person. Which is why as smart, loyal, and hard working as they are, you rarely see pure poodles as service dogs. How did Camelot become mine? Fate, as life would have it. Fate and my amazing dog trainer, who after months of helping us search, found my special Camelot and convinced me to let him train both of us. That, though, is a tale for another time.
Back to the wall. With all of my physical limitations, creating the bond between Camelot and myself was non-traditional at best, but mercifully, it was formed. When he was budding on dog-adolescence, I realized that I needed to make him see that he could trust me, no matter what the circumstance. And I knew that I would be taking him into all sorts of circumstances, primarily medical, but a had a feeling there would be a few other off the wall situations. I wanted him to trust my judgment, and thought it best to introduce that in an environment where I controlled the circumstances.
In our back yard we have a small retaining wall, about 4.5 feet tall. I had been eying this wall when Camelot and I were playing outside. On the low side it connected to our patio. On the other side, a grassy path went along loping around our yard. This made it perfect for bouncing a ball over the wall, making Camelot run farther distance for my small throw. And yet, if Camelot would jump the wall, he would reach it more quickly, using different muscles in the process. The wall was just tall enough that it would take effort, yet not so tall for it to be impossible or too strenuous.
Thus I formed my plan. I would teach him to jump the wall.
Now, how does a person in a wheelchair do that? Help and hot dogs. After much explanation and convincing, I enlisted my mother and sister to help me. My mother would push me in my wheelchair to the high side of the retainer wall. My sister would keep Camelot on the low side, not permitting him to escape. My hope was that his desire to get to me—and the warm hot dog pieces—would be enough to lure him up.
I was wrong.
Camelot was not interested in jumping the wall. He saw me, went on his hind legs to smell the bait, and did reconnaissance of the wall and all means to get around. He whined and danced through my sister’s legs once or twice. But he did not try to jump. I had my mother wheel me back, out of view, and while he thought about jumping, didn’t try. I returned, showed him the hot dogs again, and tried to entice him up. Once again he would consider all the options, but not jump. Once again I was wheeled away, calling him, and then returned to try enticing him a new.
After a short while of this dance, my body was screaming that it was finished. My stamina was all used up and my spells of blacking out were coming more and more quickly, each one lasting progressively longer. I had lost the circulation to my legs and arms, and was beginning to loose my vision too, the typical cycle that always happens when I’ve pushed my endurance to the limit. (Just about daily). But I did not want to quit. The cardinal rule in dog training is never set the dog up to fail. By not seeing through with the jumping challenge, I would, in essence, be allowing him to fail. Just when I couldn’t do anymore, my head bobbing like a puppet on a string along my chest, my mother declared enough. Leaving Camelot with my sister on the low side of the wall, she wheeled me around to the house, so I could lie down and catch my breath.
And that’s when it happened: Camelot jumped the wall and came trotting to my side.
I could not have bribed him, fooled him, or cajoled him; he came because he knew my body needed a rest, and he wouldn’t leave me. He taught me a lesson as much as himself that day, in seeing he could jump the wall. He learned that he rather liked it, and now, years later, he still jumps the wall regularly, especially when playing so he can out run my mother’s dogs to the ball. I learned that while I could (and would) teach Camelot fancy and vast commands, he would always read my body’s ability and decide for himself what—and when—something should be done. Is he smart? Crazy smart. Acts as my Nanny? Most assuredly. Would I trade anything in the world for him? Absolutely not.
In fact, by recognizing his amazing discernment of my body’s health, he showed me that no matter what the wall, he wouldn’t let me go through it alone. And that’s as corny as it is heart warming. For, the truth of the matter is, when you have a chronic disease(s), there are bound to be lots of walls. Perhaps Winnie the Pooh said it best, “It’s so Much Friendlier with Two.”