Puppies. ❤ They are adorable, entertaining, and in this case, intelligent, balls of energy. They can also grow up to be the perfect service dog and companion, under the right circumstances.
That was my hope when Justin and I adopted Kubrow, a 9 week-old pure-blooded German Shepherd puppy, last Friday. His boss at work told him about an Amish farm outside of town that had a litter of German Shepherds for $250 each. While that most certainly is a lot of money, it’s actually pretty cheap as far as a puppy of this particular breed goes. German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) are bred to be smart, working animals. Often times, they are trained to be service dogs to assist with mobility and other tasks. When Justin told me about the opportunity to get one of these puppies, I immediately said yes! About a day later, as we were still mulling over the idea, I started to have second thoughts.
GSDs are notoriously high-energy dogs. They require a lot of physical and mental stimulation in order to be happy and well-behaved. Knowing how debilitating my conditions can be on a regular basis, I was afraid I might not be able to keep up with the demands of a high-energy dog. I expressed these concerns to Justin, and he assured me that where I fall short, he could pick up the slack. That was comforting to me, knowing that I could count on him to take on my share of the responsibilities if I needed to rest. Still, we decided to take a few more days to decide.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this could be a good test for me. I have been considering adopting a human child for quite some time now. I have just been afraid that my limitations might keep me from being the parent a child needs and deserves. I have the right heart and mindset to raise a child, but my physical limitations always make me second-guess how viable a parent I can be. I decided that if I can handle a puppy, I can definitely handle a child. This could be a chance to see if I have what it takes.
I could also train this new puppy to be a service dog that can assist me with mobility when I experience weakness and vertigo, fetch my medications if I’m too weak to get out of bed, and carry my emergency injection kit and go find help for me in case I have an adrenal crisis and am unable to get help myself.
I knew puppy training was going to be a challenge, but after a couple of days of deliberation, I was sold on the idea. Worst case scenario, we have to find a new home for a pure-blooded German Shepherd puppy, which would almost certainly be easy to find considering how sought-after this breed is. Best case scenario, I get a loyal new best friend who will one day become a very valuable part of my medical care team.
I could not have anticipated how much the former was going to break my heart, but I had to try. I needed to know whether or not I could handle this. Sometimes when you have a chronic illness like mine, you have to test your limits. At least for me, I have to know. I can’t just not try. The guilt of wondering what could have been eats at my psyche like a corrosive acid. I would rather try and fail than never try at all.
So… on Black Friday of all days, we went to an Amish farm pick up our new pup. There were two left available for us to choose from. One was far too skittish and wouldn’t even come greet us. The other was also apprehensive, but warmed up to me after I sat down nearby and offered ear scritches and play. It wasn’t long before he was rolling into my lap. The farmer who owned them said he would sell him to us for $100 since he was 9 weeks old now. We were happy to take him.
At first, he was afraid to come with us. Justin had to carry him to the car. By the next day, however, this little pup, who we decided to name Kubrow as a reference to Warframe, was glued to my side. He chose me as his favorite human right away. I was his primary playmate and teacher, and I was ALMOST as excited as he was to work together. He proved to be an excellent pupil, very food-driven and eager to please. On top of that, he was extremely smart. It didn’t take long for him to master “sit”, and other commands followed suit. Within just a couple of days, I had him trained to “wait” to take a treat from my open hand until I say “get it”, and “leave it” became an often used (and well followed) command when he got the itch to playfully chase one of our cats.
Even though he was born in and had lived in a barn up until we got him, he was diligent about going potty outside only. In the week that we had him, he only had an accident inside the house one time, and that was my fault for forgetting to take him outside when I meant to. He let me know when he needed to go every other time, and now after all of our careful training and practice, he pees and poops on command when I say “go potty”.
For the first few days, I was doing just fine. We played outside together and practiced walking on the leash. He even went with me to the nearby pharmacy walk-up window to pick up my medications. I just loved the way he looked to me for guidance when he was learning about the world around him, and ran to me for comfort when something scared him. This little boy was my furchild, and I fell head over heels for him.
He loved me just as much, enough so that I started taking measures to avoid him developing separation anxiety. He didn’t like having to spend time out of sight from me while he played outside or practiced sitting in his crate, but those measures seemed to quell the growing chance of developing that. He still cries when I have to leave him alone, but it is so much less intense than it was when we first started training.
It’s a good thing I started teaching him independence from me when I did, because just a few days after keeping up with this high-energy pup, my body crashed. I had a hard time waking up one morning. My head was foggy, and my body felt heavy and weak. I allowed myself an extra hour to rest before getting up and starting my morning routine with Kubrow. I got up, let him out of his crate, and took him outside to go potty. He did his business on command like a good boy, and we went back inside so he could eat his breakfast. Another potty trip about ten minutes later, and I was clearly not going to be able to take him on his walk. My hands were shaking, and I could tell I was already having a hard time getting around myself. I needed to lay down and rest.
I took a stress dose of my hydrocortisone to hopefully address the symptoms, and put Kubrow back into his crate so that I could lay down and allow my body to rest. He whined in protest a little bit. I couldn’t blame him, this was usually the time when we would go outside to play or go for a walk. He was a good boy and quieted down quickly. I turned on public radio for him so he didn’t feel completely alone, and I laid down to sleep for a few hours until my therapy appointment later that afternoon.
I was still feeling sluggish and nauseated when I got up from my nap, but it was a little better than before. Still, it was enough to really bother me. I wasn’t able to keep up with Kubrow’s needs already, just a few days into it. It was a really disheartening realization. I told myself it would be okay once Justin got home. He could take Kubrow for a good long walk and tire him out before bed.
The only issue was, Kubrow didn’t want to walk with Justin alone. He wanted his favorite human to come too, but I was just not up to the task. Since Justin couldn’t get him to go out on his walk, they played in the backyard for a while trying to sufficiently wear him out. Poor Justin was worn out after a long day of factory work, too.
Things were just not looking up. I spent that evening resting as much as I could, hoping that this was just a random flare-up and that tomorrow would be better.
The next day was about the same. I had no energy at all, and I felt sick.
When Justin came home from work two days ago, I had a breakdown. I started crying hard as I told him I didn’t think we would be able to keep Kubrow. Justin was sad as well, but he agreed. I didn’t have they physical stamina to keep up with his energy needs, and Justin worked too much, and lacked the patience for raising a puppy as well. With heavy hearts, we decided we should find a new home for him sooner rather than later, for my health, Justin’s sanity, and for Kubrow’s long-term happiness as well.
We found someone perfect and trustworthy who was willing to take him, and made plans for him to come pick him up on Monday.
I called my dad yesterday and told him the news. He was in love with our pup as well, so I was really sad to have to tell him. I wound up having another breakdown and wailing over the phone when I admitted I couldn’t handle my puppy.
To my surprise, my dad said “Well, then there is only one thing left to do,” and he offered to take Kubrow off my hands and adopt him. My dad had been suffering from puppy fever lately anyway, and had even thought about going to get Kubrow’s litter-mate, but he just hadn’t pushed himself to do it yet. He said that if anything, this is just making him take the leap and give him an excuse to get a puppy he’s been dreaming about for a while now.
I was so relieved, I cried some more.
I told my dad that we had made arrangements for Kubrow to go to another home, but I would much rather he stayed within the family. I decided to ask the potential adopters if they would be willing to let my dad take Kubrow instead, and they graciously agreed that that would be the best thing for our pup. I was so grateful for his understanding. I called my dad back to tell him the news, and he agreed to come and get Kubrow on Friday (today).
Having to face my physical limitations like this is a heart-wrenching thing. It’s a terrible feeling, and I was drowning in it for a couple of days. I teared up at the slightest reminder of my failure and cried myself to sleep more than once. Not only was I failing this perfectly good boy and was about to upend his life because I can’t handle him, but I was proving to myself that I don’t have the stamina for human children either.
Even though this is an incredibly hard lesson to learn, it was necessary. I am so glad I decided to give Kubrow a chance. We tried our best to keep up with him, and my limitations made themselves clear. I now know for sure what I can and can not handle, and there is a sense of serenity in that. As devastating as this is to go through, there is comfort in knowing that I did try, and it’s okay to acknowledge and accept those limitations I do have. It has made me less judgemental towards myself for pursuing my disability claim. As difficult as it is to have gone through it, the proof I have found will be an invaluable milestone to remember moving forward in life.
I taught you how to potty outside, sit on command, and love unconditionally. You were such a good student and a loving companion, and I wish we could stay together forever, but that’s just not realistic. You have needs I can’t meet, and I know that if I selfishly kept you here, you would grow to be unhappy and quite likely an unruly and bored dog. I want a better life for you, so I am sending you to someone who can meet those needs, and I hope you will love him as much as you’ve loved me.
In the short time we’ve spent together I taught you a lot about the world, but you taught me a lesson so much more important than “sit” and “lie down”. Thank you for that. Thank you for letting me have this chance.
You are a very good boy.
There I go crying again.
I am going to need time to heal from this, but I’ll bounce back even stronger once these wounds heal, I’m sure of it. In the meantime, it will be up to Dovah to cheer me up.