I went out to St. Louis with a friend and up to that point, she’d never been around Ethel wearing her vest. At our house, even with friends over, Ethel doesn’t wear her vest. She’s always working, however, and doesn’t stop watching me or following me wherever I go to see if I need any help. She’ll still brace for me so I can get up from my yoga mat and when we go for walks in our neighborhood, she’ll happily pull me along. When friends come over, if Ethel rubs up against them they’re allowed to pet her and give her a cookie or two. But when the vest is on, no one, not even Dusty, can touch her. When her vest is on, Ethel knows without a doubt that she’s working. It was a different experience for my friend to see Ethel working but even more unique for her was seeing how people reacted to Ethel. I’m used to walking around with a celebrity, people stopping to stare at Ethel and provide the obligatory “is that a horse?” comment.
When we went to lunch, we were given the special attention by the wait staff that only a guest like Ethel can bring and she was given her very own water dish with ice. When I take out Ethel’s vest and tell her to get dressed, she wags her tail. She’s excited to work, she knows she makes me happy and proud and if she does a good job she’ll get plenty of treats. When her vest is on, Ethel isn’t interested in anything except me which is an enormous tribute to the genius of Carlene White and the skill of her trainers at the Service Dog Project. She looks away when a stranger’s hand is outstretched for her to sniff before I can say anything. She watches, with ears pointed and eyes very alert, at the many squirrels crossing our path but doesn’t chase them. (She did a few months back, but I was able to remind her that squirrels are off limits when the vest is on. She does chase squirrels, however, when I say it’s okay and when she’s not working.) She sits and waits for me on the floor while I browse books at the library or when Dusty and I sit to listen at church. She’s far more patient when her vest is on and always, her eyes follow my every movement to make sure I’m okay.
We were out bowling with the same friend and her husband at the bowling center on post. I don’t know, but I’m pretty confident that Ethel had never seen bowling before this outing. She was working, her vest was on and she pulled me up the ramp and led me down to the seats where we were gathering. I pulled out her mat and had her in the “down, stay” position as we got our balls and threw our first round. She loved it and her tail began to wag as she watched the bowling balls fly down the alleys. Her ears were on full alert and her head followed the flying, giant toys racing down the alleys to crash into more toys at the end. When I went up to throw my ball with Dusty’s help, she got up to follow me and that wasn’t too surprising. She doesn’t want me to go far from her and here I was with this giant toy that I was going to throw. I got her back down and our friends helped while she watched me bowl. When we were done, I took her to the balls so she could sniff them and she promptly opened her mouth to eat the blue one.
Without her vest, Ethel is a different kind of dog. She’s the sweetest, gentlest soul, but can have an attitude with a capital A every once in a while. When she doesn’t want to go on a walk, she’ll stare at me holding her leash like she can’t believe I’m asking her to go outside. When I get the leash on, she might weave in front of me or pull to show me that she does not appreciate going on a walk when she clearly showed me she wasn’t interested. A few commands in a calm, assertive voice and few “woahs” and “walk ons” later and she’s reluctantly listening. A big part of Ethel’s life not wearing her vest is simply being my shadow. She’ll trail me from room to room, groaning when I leave a room just as soon as she’s gotten comfortable. When we go for walks, she waits for my command on which direction to go and then she begins pulling me along. Something about living on a military post, however, is the tendency to stop and chat when seeing neighbors outside the home. When we walk in the morning, we’ll usually come across a neighbor or two and I’ll stop to chat. As patient as Ethel is, when she’s not wearing her vest she’ll let me know she’s bored when this happens.
The other morning I stopped to chat with the mother and sister of one of my neighbors, holding the newborn twins my neighbor just delivered. We must have been chatting for a quite a while and Ethel, wearing her sassy pants, began to let me know she was bored of all this talking. As I cooed over the babies, she looked up at me expectantly, hoping that if she stared at me long enough she’ll get a cookie. When that didn’t work, she threw her paw up on my knees. And because I kept ignoring her, she climbed up on my knees to do her command “hug!” and barked (the “say amen!” command when I taught her how to pray) to demand a cookie.
I told her no and to “leave it”, saying that I didn’t appreciate the attitude. I gave her the down command and she rolled over in the boredom state while I finished my conversation. Miss Sassy Pants, indeed.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to various outdoor hotspots right on post, our favorite being a short hike to a spring that feeds into the Piney River. The other day the three of us were loaded up in Dusty’s car and he turned on the ignition. But Ethel has to lay down in the backseat before we can drive and for all my commands, she was giving me a blank stare as she stood on the seat. “Ethel,” I said, trying to imitate Cesar Milan’s calm, assertive voice, “lay down”. After a beat, she lowered her butt down but stopped when it came to rest on the top of the backseat. Technically, she was sitting and had gotten partially down like I asked. She looked at me like, “Fine. I’m down. Is THAT what you wanted?” and I couldn’t help but laugh. She sits like that on our coach at home, her butt resting on the top of the couch while her front paws are on the couch cushions. Close, Ethel. But not quite. She did eventually come all the way down with a gruff groan of irritation at us and we continued on our way.
Get ready for next week on Finding Ethel when we announce a special surprise!