by McCall Hoyle
September is National Service Dog Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to reflect on the dogs that have improved our world and our lives and to give specific thanks to the extraordinary dogs that devote their lives to serving humans with a wide variety of physical, emotional, and medical needs.
Emily Dickinson once said, “Dogs are better than humans because they know but do not tell,” and I could not agree more. In fact, some of my best friends have been dogs. When I was a little girl, there was the solid black mutt-of-my-heart who I creatively named Blackie. She showed up at my childhood home when I needed a friend, adopted my family, and graced us with her gentle spirit for more than a decade. Then there was Miss Annie, a pint-sized beagle, who suffered from separation anxiety and thunder phobia. I spent more money than I care to remember on private dog training lessons because she hadn’t been socialized enough to handle group lessons. Miss Annie eventually became a fully functioning member of our family and repaid me with unconditional love and friendship. There were other canine friends along the way.
Most recently, there was Chip, the golden retriever bred to do service work, who by an odd twist of fate ended up with my family. The dog is more human than many humans. He is and always will be the dog of my heart. He was a super star in basic obedience, passed the canine good citizen test without practicing, and currently serves his community as a certified therapy dog. He visits nursing homes, smiles at everyone he meets, and rests his big blocky head in any lap that will have him. He makes each person he visits feel like the center of the universe—like he or she is his one and only best friend.
Whether you live with a Miss Annie, a Chip, or a Gara, who is the best friend and registered service dog of my friend Morgan who has cerebral palsy, take a few minutes this month to scratch a dog behind the ears, volunteer at the humane society, or donate to a service dog organization in your region.
Service dogs cost tens of thousands of dollars to raise and train, and many people with special needs wait years for a dog. Service Dog Awareness Month is the perfect time to give thanks and give back to the wonderful organizations that raise, train, and love these special animals. And don’t forget to spend a little extra time with the dog you love as well.
High school language arts teacher McCall Hoyle writes honest YA novels about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her novels. Her most recent novel, The Thing with Feathers (Blink YA Books, September 2017) features Emilie, who has epilepsy, and her service dog, Hitch. When she’s not reading or writing, McCall is spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten. She lives in a cottage in the woods in North Georgia where she reads and writes every day.