Testing for Pet Partners with Gus was stressful but it was nothing compared to my very first ever testing. I’d never studied or taken a test with a dog, not even one as smart as Charley.
It wasn’t that the test was going to be tricky or full of surprises. Everything had been explained and illustrated in the workshop and in the huge book we were given (and which I read more than once and highlighted). It was just so different from anything I’d ever done. I certainly didn’t want to let Charley down, or worse, explain to my laughing children why I’d failed. Then, just as I was getting it together, someone told me that if you’re nervous, your emotions travel down the leash to your dog. Great! I had to worry about upsetting him with my issues.
In the weeks before the test, I drove the family nuts with my concerns, questions, and need for support. When I made the mistake of telling the kids that the evaluation would begin as soon as I left the car, they had a field day with that information. They convinced me that people with walkie-talkies (cell phones weren’t big yet) would be hiding behind trees and reporting on my behavior. If Charley or I did anything wrong, our mug shots would be sent to testing central.
After all of their kidding and practically doing skits at my expense, I was totally surprised when we arrived at the testing site on the UCLA campus. A friendly girl named Heather, who was in plain site, walked up and greeted us. When I asked about spies, she assured me there were none, and looked at me as if I was insane.
When the evaluation began, my genius dog sat down at my side and gazed up at me. The examiner said, “That’s perfect. Just what we want to see, a connection between handler and dog.”
CHARLEY Pardon the interruption but obviously he didn’t realize that I was looking at her as if to say, “Get a grip!” Yes, nerves do travel down the leash. I am normally very calm but she was ruining my chi. And for the record, did she really have to make me stay up all night and listen to that book.
As I explained with Gus, the testing is part obedience and part aptitude. Charley breezed through the basic obedience. He walked calmly by my side on a loose leash with all sorts of distractions around us. Nothing phased him. There were people going by in wheel chairs and walkers. Others were yelling and staggering before they came over and asked if they could pet him. I, on the other hand, jumped about a foot off the floor when someone dropped a book behind us. When it was time to have the evaluator brush him, someone else hug him and a few people pet him at the same time, he acted as if he was at the spa.
We only had one little snag. There is an exercise on the evaluation called “neutral dog.” Two handlers approach each other from several feet away, shake hands, say, “what’s up?” and continue walking past each other. Charley wasn’t supposed to show more than casual interest in the other dog.
As luck would have it, the neutral dog was a cute Golden Retriever and Charley has a thing for cute Golden Retrievers. He did everything short of ask her for a date. If I had to guess, I’d say he got her phone number. Fortunately we were only scored down a point.
I was overjoyed when we passed the test. It was partly because Charley was my very first, official therapy dog but even more so it was because we were considered a team. As a non-athletic kid who’d never done sports, this was my very first team and I was kind of like captain!
CHARLEY Captain? Are you kidding me? Her nerves were so bad at testing, I was ready to have a bowl of wine, and I rarely drink. And I think we all know who’s captain. By the way, I did get the cute Golden Retriever’s phone number.