Well, Rally and I are officially back to college, and Rally is settling into the life of a college attending, service dog. Admittedly it was difficult for the both of us, transitioning from a lazy, relaxing summer of languishing poolside to remaining motionless while professors drone on about Geology and Physics, but Rally-like most service dogs across the nation who accompany their handlers to campuses-is adjusting with poise-and the bribery of a few treats. Attending classes with a service dog is far from easy. Before I even arrive on campus, Rally has to be taken care of. Living with a service dog is akin to living leashed to a small child who cannot talk except to grunt, whine and shove a cold, wet nose into your warm nest of blankets at six in the morning when you’re trying to sleep. And a child doesn’t shed all over on your favorite black dress that you’ve set out to wear, or pant moist, meaty-smelling breath in your face when you are brushing your teeth and getting ready for school.
My morning revolves around getting Rally ready for the day ahead. If he’s not fed and brushed and geared up, then my entire routine is thrown off. First, he gets his kibble and an arthritis pain pill for his hip. Then, while he’s gobbling down his food and keeping an eye on me, I throw on my clothes and attempt to tame my hair. A backpack is the only solution I’ve come up with that restrains Rally’s pad and treats, my notebooks, textbook, pens and lunch in a container that’s somehow smaller than Texas. I always pack the night before, so I have my bag waiting by the door as I gear Rally up; coat (if it’s cold) boots (if it’s snowing or if the pavement is boiling hot) service vest and leash. I then take him outside for a few minutes to go potty, and then we’re off to catch the shuttle onto campus.
For those who commute to school or work, I salute you. Buses can be a headache with service dogs-not because of the dogs, but because of the curious pedestrians all staring at the four legged passengers. Finding a good seat can also be a pain; the floors are slippery and when crowded, people can accidentally step on paws or ears. I’m always happy when I get off of the bus and get onto campus, where at least I can head to class and sit Rally down.
In class, I have Rally lie down on his pad, which I haul around with me everywhere, rolled up in my backpack. It makes a huge difference, especially in classrooms where the floor is tiled. My next service dog, I’ve decided, must have long fur, even if it means more shedding, because Rally shivers once the sun ducks behind a cloud and the thermostat hits seventy. In a classroom where the floor isn’t plush Berber carpet and the humidity isn’t at eighty percent, he groans and shakes like an old man in a blizzard. The pad helps a great deal, so I put up with the weight and inconvenience and unroll it like he’s the Sultan.
Throughout class my attention is always split; it’s only only because I have to make sure Rally is comfortable and calm. After all, Rally isn’t eye candy. If he looks at me with intensity or stands up and nudges me, I’ve got to move. He can give me two-even four hours warning on a migraine. My pills are in my outer left pocket of my backpack. I can see the outline of the orange round bottle filled with pain medication pressed against the blue fabric.
If Rally misses the invisible warning signs of migraine, the pills won’t help. Once the auroras start, I know I have fifteen minutes before the debilitating pain begins. It takes me about thirteen minutes to jog to the health center for a pain shot. Two minutes to spare. Two minutes.
Rally won’t miss. It all depends on a dog. It depends on if he’s focused today. If he’s feeling up to the job.
I look back at the professor, then back at Rally, whose curled up at my feet. To the casual onlooker, he appears totally relaxed. I’m being dumb. Trusting this canine with my health. This is the dog that will chase the laser light and will furiously lick at the carpet as though to eat the tiny red dot. This is the dog that will wake up, get confused as to which end is the exit in his crate, and flail about until we drag him out. This is the dog that I am trusting with my welfare?
And then Rally looks up at me and his tiny stub of a tail wags and he grins and I relax, remembering. This is the dog that won’t let me out of his sight, shadowing me around the apartment, sleeping with one eye open and checking on me during the night just in case something was wrong. This is the dog that somehow walked into my life with the ability to alert to my migraines and protect my health, my four legged, shedding, snoring guardian.
I go back to my class and Rally goes back his dreams with one eye open.
After class, Rally and I eat lunch, usually snacking on campus. Where we eat depends largely on the flow of the crowds. I’m not a fan of people, and Rally and I attract a lot of stares and questions, so we usually prefer to eat in a secluded part of campus, either in the library or in a corner of the quad. After lunch we sometimes catch an afternoon class or else head back home, done for the day.
At our apartment, I let Rally off leash and let him go potty and roll around in the grass. He gets to play and run around, sniff at bushes and have play time. I can tell he is getting older, because after a few minutes he comes back to my side and flops down in the shade, panting, to get his ears scratched and his belly rubbed.
“You’re getting to be soft.” I tell him, and he rolls his amber eyes at me and grins.
We walk slowly up the steps to our apartment and I let him inside. He drinks some water and I hang his vest and leash up, unpack my backpack and start on dinner. He watches, knowing he can’t cross the sacred line that is the kitchen, and after I eat I pour his kibble in his bowl and walk him through some commands. When he has earned his meal, he then eats while I wash up.
My roommate and I do homework as Rally curls up on the porch and stares down at the returning residents. Night approaches, and I call him in for bed. It’s time for a final romp in the grass, and then I climb in bed.
“Night Ral.” I tell him, turning off the light.
He’s already snoring, ready for another day.