Upon learning that a Smooth Collie was going to be the breed of dog to succeed her beloved Labrador Retriever, Cali, Cheryl admitted, “I wasn’t sure.” Yet, she shares, “This successor dog and I became successor partners.” Cheryl laughs as she says, “I compare it to having a 2-year-old who follows you everywhere. I think she’s a lot like a cat, and she has an opinion about everything. But I love her.” That’s a good thing, because a literal love-at-first-sight response would not be easy for Cheryl.
Learning to Accept Help
Cheryl was born prematurely with no vision in her left eye, and the sight in her right eye progressively became more limited. That, combined with migraines that affected her balance, made Cheryl’s walking precarious. “I was a Weeble Wobble.” She fell frequently and says, “I have the staples and bruises to prove it.” Despite her physical challenges, Cheryl had successful nursing and physical therapy careers until her vision, tendonitis and fibromyalgia brought an end to her work life.
At first, she resisted a friend’s advice to apply for an assistance dog. “I’ve always had an “I-don’t-need-as-much, I-don’t-deserve-as-much attitude.” She adjusted her thinking when a divorce resulted in her living by herself for the first time in years. After this brought a better understanding of her needs, she was paired with her first Can Do Canines assistance dog for help with both mobility and hearing.
Cali served Chery well until being retired to another family for health reasons, naturally causing Cheryl to grieve. “I funked. I don’t know how else to say it.” Yet, Cheryl needed to move on. “I had to step up,” she says, and she moved rather quickly with Can Do Canines to make a Collie named Jackie part of her life before the stay-at-home order went into effect. Plus, she explains, “I’m a lot more realistic now. I learned things with my first dog: what not to do, what I can do, and what I’m capable of doing with [an assistance] dog.”
That reality now includes Jackie. With her precious, pricked ears always picking up sounds, Jackie joyfully alerts Cheryl to sounds, including the alarm clock and Cheryl’s medicine timer. Jackie’s skills don’t stop there though. Instead of herding livestock, she deposits laundry into a basket and collects items Cheryl drops, from keys to magazines. Jackie will tug open doors for Cheryl, who may be experiencing wrist pain and usually already has her hands full with her walker and other essentials. If there is an automatic door with a push plate, Jackie uses her slender nose to activate it and accompanies Cheryl safely in and out of buildings.
The quick formation of this team worked out well. Cheryl describes the bonding time during the pandemic circumstances as “a blessing.” Since they have limited family and social interactions, Jackie makes ideal company for Cheryl. They love to knit together. Sometimes Jackie even initiates a project by deciding that Cheryl needs her knitting needles and then settling her head on Cheryl’s lap. Their shared people-watching hobby is in full force when they venture out on multiple walks each day. Living in her New Brighton apartment with other seniors who tend to think of each-others’ animals as shared pets, Cheryl is firmly protective of Jackie when her attentive ally is on duty.
So with one of them retired, the other is just beginning her career. Cheryl fully understands and appreciates all that Jackie will bring to her life and what has already gone into making this partnership possible. “Thank you isn’t enough,” Cheryl states, and shares that she, herself, tries to donate what she can financially, especially when there is a matching gift available. Yet, she states, “There is no match for the people who donate and for what the volunteers and trainers do. It’s beyond words.”
And so far, learning to live with this surprising Smooth Coat Collie has been nothing but smooth sailing for Cheryl.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Kristina Kiefer
Puppy Raiser: Federal Correctional Institution-Sandstone, Stanley Correctional Institution
Special Thanks: The Whitfield Family, Kristina Kiefer, University of Minnesota FETCH Program
Name-A-Puppy Donor: Angie LaBathe
Dog Donor: Amy Ross
You: Thank you for your donations!