A/N: Must forever offer love and gratitude to my beta extraordinaire, LJ Summers. She holds my hand, wipes my tears, and talks me off the ledge on occasion. See below for the rest of my rambling thoughts. . . .


[Puppy POV – first ever outing to town to see the reaction to a new environment.]

.

"Oh wow! Smell all this cool stuff! And PEOPLE! Oooooh, pet me! Pet me! Pet meeeee!"

I looked around at my brother and sister. "Dude! What is with you guys? C'mon! It's fun and exciting!" Yipping playfully, I jumped up and down, my whole body wiggling. I tried to grab sis, but she wasn't having any part of it.

"Nooooo! I don't wanna! I don't wanna!" She avoided my teeth and ducked behind Big Kind Lady.

"Geez. What a wuss. What about you, Bro? You ready for a little action?"

"Um, no. I'm good just watching. I'm not sure about any of this."

I shrugged. "Suit yourself," I said before dashing off till I ran out of room on that annoying thing around my neck. "Ugh, c'mon. . . just. . . a. . . little. . . I want. . . to. . . yes! Smell this!" I'd pulled and panted, and gasped my way over to a funny looking box thing.

"Wah wa wah wa wa wha wa wha." Those funny human noises were attached to a marvelous-smelling pair of shoes I'd never seen before. I strained to get closer; they were so awesome, I just had to rub on them. I was rewarded with that happy human sound I liked so much and a scratch behind my ears.

Looking up, I saw a warm human face that looked like it had been out in the sun too long.

What's with that funny colored hair? I cocked my head to the side. I've never seen white on a human before. Weird.

"Oh! Itchy, itchy, itchy. . . ."

I sat down and scratched my neck.

Oh, ahhhhhh, mmmmmm, so good. . . .

I stood and shook my body.

Much better.

"I. . .wanna. . . oh c'mon. . . ." I pulled against that thing again, but this time could get no closer to the object of my attention as my brother and sister began to bark furiously in fear. "What? What is it? I don't see anything!"

"There. . . there was. . . a big. . .thing. . . over there!" My sister pointed with her quivering nose still shouting away.

"What? That? You're silly!" I bopped her on the nose with my paw. "That's just a shadow dumbass. It's nothing! Geez, all that shouting for nothing."

"Come, come!" Big Kind Lady called in a chipper happy voice. That human sound I knew meant I should go to her and I did right away. "Good girl!" I knew those human sounds too, and they were almost always followed by a pat or a scratch from her kind hand. My brother and sister were still barking and not paying any attention. Stupid them. Oh well, more pats for me! I sat and waited for them as Big Kind Lady tried to get their attention.

– + – + – + –

We three went again in the Big Box on Wheels to that new place one more time, and after that my brother and sister didn't get to go anymore. They were happy, I thought they were really missing out on all the fun. There were so many awesome smells and the humans were all so friendly. I got lots of scratches and pets, especially after I'd sit and let my tongue loll out the side of my mouth, perk my ears, and smile at them.

Later on, when I knew more human sounds, I got to go when the big dogs went. That was the best! I'd puff my chest out and walk real proudly until I tripped over a crack or crashed into something. Then I'd slink away embarrassed as everyone laughed.

"No, little one, you must watch where you're going. You won't be much help if you're tripping and stumbling and running in to things."

"Help?"

"Yes, help. We are learning how to help our person."

"But there are so many of us and only one of her. She doesn't seem like she needs that much help."

"No, not the Big Kind Lady. She's teaching us so we can help another person – a very special person – one day."

"Oh! That sounds important."

"It's very important. Only a few of us get the honor of this special life. I've already seen many of our kind drop out for one reason or another. So, if you want to really help, you have to pay very close attention to the Big Kind Lady and learn what she wants you to do."

"I do, I do!" I yipped excitedly.

"Well, shouting it to everyone isn't the way to do it. Show it with your actions, not your voice."

I ducked my head. "Yes, sir. Thank you for telling me all this."

"It's okay, little one. Enthusiasm is good and will take you far, it's just not the only thing that's needed. I see real promise in you, and I can tell the Big Kind Lady does, too. Just pay attention and you'll do well." He nudged me gently, and his words went all the way to my heart.

"But, sir? How will I know my special person? How will they be different from other humans? Aren't they mostly all alike?"

"Yes, this is true. A special person is different from most other humans. They may not walk or walk well, or they may not hear – it may be something that you can see but a lot of times it's something you can't see. Each special human is different in their own way, and you will know when you see yours, I promise. You'll feel it, in here. . . ." He bumped my chest with his nose.

"Have you. . . do you know your special person?"

"No, not yet. I hope to meet them soon. I feel I'm ready and up for any task they might need help with."

"Wow." I wanted more than anything to wear that special cloth that Wise One wore. The one that meant I was a helper to a special human and vowed that I wouldn't let anything distract me from that life.

Sometime after that day, a new person came to our home and we were paraded out to meet him. He was very gentle and kind. His voice was soft, warm, and loving. I liked him right away and hoped he'd be my special person.

I went right up and sat in front of him and did everything I could to get his attention. I perked my ears, I smiled, I tilted my head, I bumped his leg with my nose, but I didn't make a sound. I remembered the words of the Wise One.

He ignored me, being busy swapping human sounds with the Big Kind Lady. Remembering what the big dogs did when she did that, I lay down at his feet while watching him alertly for any change, ready for his any movement.

Finally, he turned and looked me right in the eye. He was pleased, I could see it and feel it coming off him in waves. I smiled.

"Wah, wa, wah, wah, Little One, wa wah wa good girl." He reached down and touched my head lightly. "Wa wa wah wa go wa wah?" When I heard "go," I immediately stood up at his side and looked at his face. "Good girl! Wah wa, good girl." His smile lit up his eyes as he heartily patted my back.

He turned back to Big Kind Lady and shook her hand before taking that thing that meant "going" out of his pocket. I couldn't help wiggling a little in my excitement, but I stood as still as I could while he attached it to that thing around my neck.

"Ready? Let's go!" He said turning for the door. I knew those human sounds and what they meant. I wanted to jump up and down so badly, but I knew I had to stay focused and simply smiled and wagged my tail wishing it didn't wag my whole body. He made that happy human sound that made my heart sing as we left my birth home for his home. I didn't look back.

– + – + – + –

Living with Kind Man was a whole new level of learning. It was hard at first. I missed all my extended family, their noise and bustle. In Kind Man's house I was the only one like me. He had a creature like Timmy from my old home, though this one was older and more snarly with dull claws. I ignored him just like Timmy had taught me (though I missed his patience and his happy rumbly noise) and focused my attention on Kind Man.

There was a box with water in it and little things that moved around that I found curious and could watch for a long time. I wanted to drink from it, but it was out of my reach and I had a feeling Kind Man wouldn't like it if I did that, so I settled for just watching.

The strangest thing, though, was this big colorful bird in a box made of wire. I knew birds, but only plain small ones that lived outside. This one was noisy and loud, maybe because it was inside and close to me. It was also messy, throwing food all over the floor. Snarly One seems always to be scheming to get to Loud One, but his attempts all failed and I couldn't help at least smiling when they did. It was so silly, I could tell right away whatever it was wouldn't work, but he never gave up trying all the long time I was there.

"Okay, wa, wa, Little One, let's go."

I leapt to my feet and went straight to the door, dancing a bit as I waited for Kind Man. I loved going out with him, there was always something new to smell or learn or see. When he reached for that cloth he put on my back, I yipped once in excitement before remembering I wasn't supposed to.

"Wa, wah, wa," he made that magic human noise as he bent down. I stood very still as he slipped the cloth over my head. "Good girl, whatta good girl." I got a snack and a pat this time and wagged my tail in gratitude.

Knowing the cloth meant I was in helper mode, I was alert to everything going on with Kind Man along with everything around us. It was a lot to keep track of, but I loved it.

"What wa wa wah, Little One?"

Hearing my name, I looked up at him briefly. His finger was tapping his chin as we walked. I had to look back quickly, though, he seemed distracted and I knew that meant I had to watch out extra carefully for any bump in our path.

Ahead, I saw my second favorite human, Old Man, and as badly as I wanted to say hello, I knew I had to stay focused on my job. As we approached, he called out to us.

"Carwah wa! My wah wah wa wa wa!" They shook hands and I waited to see if they were going to talk for a bit or if we were going to walk on. Suddenly, Old Man turned to me and placed both hands on my cheeks, shaking my head a bit then patting one side of my head. "Bwawallswama! Wah wa bwawallswama!"

"Yes, wa wa too wah. Bwawa? Iswawah? Sima? Is?" I tilted my head trying to understand the human sounds. I could tell by the sound of his voice they were important.

"Is?" He repeated. I sneezed.

"Bwawa?" I shook out my fur in my frustration.

"Bwawallswama?" I yipped softly at least recognizing that from before.

"Bwawallswama. Bwallsmama? Wah wa?" I sat now not knowing what else to do. When all else failed, I sat and usually got a cookie for my effort.

"Okay, Bwallsma wa wa." He ruffled my head and turned again to Old Man. I started to lay down thinking they were going to talk some more when Old Man surprised me by grabbing my chin and speaking right to me, "Bwallsma, wa wah wa girl. Wa good. Wah wah girl, wa Ballsma."

I didn't know everything he said, but I knew it was something important. I kissed his wrist carefully in gratitude.

– + – + – + –

Things started happening rapidly after that. I began to understand more human sounds and what they meant. I learned to read ever more subtle things about Kind Man and the other humans around me so I could act even before he asked me to do something. The more I guessed right, the bigger the rewards and the happier he was. I lived to make him happy, to see the sparkle in his eyes and hear the musical sound from his lips. No cookie in the world could compare to those two things.

On our regular walks through the park, I saw others of my kind who were with their special person and I tried to watch them as much as I could. Their cloths were different from mine and one had a stick-like thing standing up on his back, so I knew they were helpers. Kind Man seemed to realize what I was doing one day, and he began to stop our work so I could watch more closely. I learned a lot from my brethren, both what not to do as well as what to do.

One pair seemed to really struggle to communicate and they were both frustrated and unhappy. One human told his partner what to do all the time, and the poor helper was so bored and tuned out, he was more a puppet than a thinking thing.

The third pair were really in sync and seemed so happy together. The person still told her partner more than Kind Man told me, but I could tell that her helper had been raised that way and didn't know how to think for the two of them.

I shivered with the thought of my special person treating me like either of the first two. Wise One hadn't mentioned anything about that and I realized he didn't know everything and that having a person that fit well was almost more important than anything else. I wondered how the humans decided who would make a good team, and I really didn't get being raised only to do what a human told me. I was happy Big Kind Lady and Kind Man let me use my mind and heart to help, too. Sure, I needed to be shown things – lots of things – but I knew things they didn't that were helpful, too.

Determined to be the very best so I would earn the extra special honor of a good partner, I redoubled my efforts.

"Come, Bellissima, twa to go."

I rose and shook my coat, releasing the negative thoughts and went to move into position at Kind Man's side. My attention was caught by movement out of the corner of my eye, and I turned my head instinctually. There was a little human girl all alone running across the grass towards the water birds. I looked around but saw no other humans watching her. At the water's edge, she tripped and fell face down. Instead of getting up and crying like I expected, she flailed where she lay dragging herself deeper into the water.

I looked back quickly to see Kind Man facing away, not seeing this. I looked back to the little human only to see her disappear under the water. No! Not good! Not good!

My shouts erupted from my throat and I was straining in her direction before I realized it.

"Come, girl, wa wast go."

"No! No! No! Little human! In the water! No! No! This way! This way!" I was tugging against that line on my neck as hard as I could. I had to get to that little human.

"Wah wa wa, girl? Wah wrong?"

I lunged with all my strength as I saw her bob up and down in the water, and was suddenly freed from the restraint. The grass flew by and the water birds scattered as I approached shouting at the top of my lungs.

"Bellissima! Bellissima! STOP!"

My legs stiffened under me automatically at the sound of his voice and his words. I skid through the mud until my front feet were wet. She was close to me, I could smell her in the water even though I couldn't see her.

"Bellissima! Come!"

I wanted to obey him, to go to him right away, but I couldn't. Instinct was more powerful and I leapt forward into the water. Just as I felt the tug on my string, I saw her shirt under the water just under my mouth. As carefully as I could, I latched onto the cloth with my teeth and pulled back.

She was too heavy for me, but I wasn't going to let go and kept backing up pulling her along.

"Bellissima!" Kind Man gasped and splashed into the water behind me. I would not surrender the little human to him until I was sure by his reassurances in word and voice that he had her. He lifted her limp form into his arms and began shouting. I flinched, never having heard him raise his voice and trembled in fear of his wrath until I realized he wasn't yelling at me, only to the other humans nearby.

They deserve that. Little creatures are to be watched over, not left alone.

Kind Man laid the little human girl on the grass and bent over her. It was cool and she had no fur. I worried about her being cold and went to her other side to snuggle down at her side, remembering the comforting warmth of my mother when I was little.

"Good girl. Whatta good, good girl you are, Bellissima."

I flushed all over warm and Kind Man's words and the loving tone of his voice, and a smile broke out over my face as I panted happily.

Humans crowded around us making me a little uncomfortable as they were too close and I couldn't watch them all and the little human all at the same time.

She needs to be protected, not stared at.

When I looked to Kind Man for guidance, I could feel his annoyance but his gaze never left the tiny girl. I knew then I could focus on the humans around us because he was focused on her.

Hey! We're a team! We're really a team! How cool is this? YES! This is what I want! This right here!

Soon, some humans pushed through the circle around us. A growl began to rise in my chest before I realized that these humans were different and Kind Man was glad to see them.

"Okay, wahwa. Nice wahwa," one of them said to me. I ignored him, I'd learned to only follow what my person wanted as part of my job. If I listened to other humans, it was very confusing, though sometimes I wanted to.

"Bellissima, it's okay. Come, girl."

I rose and immediately went to his side, retreating a little when he did. Just as we were all calming down, I smelled fear and heard a big female human's crying voice. When she pushed into the middle of the circle next to us, I blocked her approach with my body. Where had this human been when the little one fell in the water? One of the special human men rose and stepped into her path and I immediately backed down into place at Kind Man's side.

"We lost her. She escaped out of the house again! She just wanders off – I didn't know where she'd gone. The sirens. . . the people. . . afraid it was Mellie. . . ." The human lady cried. I didn't understand many of her words, but I could feel her distress, anger, and fear over the little one.

There was much talking amongst the humans and I eventually lay at Kind Man's feet, waiting patiently until I knew what we were doing next.

Later that night at home, Kind Man and I played until we were both worn out, then he gave me an extra special dinner, and spent a long time brushing my coat. He was deep in thought and didn't say much, though I felt his intense gratitude, love, and pleasure through his touch.

While I was ready to go out the next day, Kind Man seemed tired, so I snuggled next to him on the couch while he looked at the skinny lighted box on his lap. He spent a long time running his fingers across it and humming. I sighed, content just to be near him and his familiar comforting smell.

– + – + – + –

Kind Man had always made learning time fun, almost like play time, and while this didn't change, what I was learning did. Suddenly, there were lots of other little humans around. Boys and girls. They would pummel me and pull my hair or my tail or my ears just like my brother and sister used to. I wanted to play back the same way, but I could see Kind Man watching me and feel that he just wanted me to lay quietly. Because it was important to him, I did it and he rewarded me grandly. Eventually, I learned I could roll around a little or nudge or move, that I didn't have to lay there completely still, but whatever I did I was always careful with the little ones.

Very quickly, Kind Man just observed me while I did what my body and my heart told me to do along with all the things he'd taught me. He continued to praise and reward me when I did something he liked.

A new word entered my life at this time. Kind Man and Big Kind Lady had never made this sound and I didn't know what it meant for a very long time. But these tiny humans made it to each other, and sometimes to themselves. Their Big People said it to them all the time. "No." I heard over and over and over. Anything I heard a lot I tried to learn because it was important.

No seems to be like stop, but the sound and the tone are unhappy. I don't like this sound at all. I'm happy Kind Man doesn't say it to me. I would be sad.

After a while, the little ones changed. They were different from other small humans – they smelled different or did different things. Their bodies moved in a different way sometimes or would do the same thing over and over again. Often, there would be an unpleasant smell and one would become very upset, screaming and crying. I thought at first the smell was what upset them and became obsessed with finding out what caused the smell so I could stop it.

Eventually, I realized that the smell was coming from the little humans themselves and it meant that upset was coming rather than the smell causing the upset.

Weird.

The upset caused me to want to comfort, so I would go to the crying one and lay down next to or near them. I could tell some didn't want me too near them, so I'd get as close as I could. It didn't take me long to figure out to go lay down next to them when I smelled that awful smell, and sometimes there would be no crying at all and the smell would go away. Everyone was so happy when that happened that I got extra loving.

Kind Man started putting a different cloth on me, one with a soft handle on the side. Then he'd walk on one side like always, but a little human would walk on the other. I didn't like that at first, I felt too confined between them.

One day, a surprising thing happened. The little human let go of the handle and walked away. I didn't know what to do. My heart wanted to go after the little one, but all my training and Kind Man's behavior told me to stay at his side. I looked between them confused and finally stopped, unwilling to go on. As I stood there, I felt tugging on the cloth around my body.

Wha? How?

I looked over my shoulder and saw a string, very much like mine, connecting the little human to the cloth on my body. I then looked at Kind Man for a clue. He looked at me with a question in his eyes as if he were waiting to see what I would do.

The tugging on my body became more insistent. Still confused, I rooted my feet to the ground refusing to move. I could feel the approval wash over me from Kind Man, so when I felt the tugging again, I fought against it even though my feet slipped a little. Kind Man smiled and the little human wailed.

I wanted to go comfort the little human, but I wanted Kind Man's approval more. So when the tugging moved my feet again, I lay down simply refusing to budge.

"That's it, girl! That's my good girl, my Bellissima!"

At that, I wasn't going to move again until he told me to, period. The tugging continued for a while until the tiny human sat down at the other end. When nothing happened for a long time, the small person got up and came back to my side.

"Okay, Bellissima, let's go!"

I stood immediately, the little person took hold of my handle, and away we went.

– + – + – + –

The lines between play and work were clearer in some places now, and not as clear in others. When I was at home, even without my cloth, I was more on duty now – more alert to what any human might be doing. Being out in public was a little harder as I had two people to watch over instead of one, and there was now no interaction with any other humans. I didn't really mind as I guessed it meant I was being prepared for something really, really special since I'd never seen another of my kind help two people at the same time before, but it was tiring and I found it hard to relax sometimes.

Kind Man saw this and my friends came to visit more often. I loved playing with Sally, Sam, and Bernie. They were the best and tumbling around in the grass shouting and growling and play fighting was so much fun! It wasn't the best part of my day, but it sure helped me shake off the stress to be so silly. They'd keep me going until we we'd all collapse on the ground, panting in exhaustion.

I knew my time with Kind Man was coming to an end. He seemed to have nothing new to show me as we did the same things over and over until I hardly looked to him anymore for cues I was so confident about what to do even in new situations.

One morning, I felt something different about him from the moment he woke. He was nervous and excited all the way through dressing me to go out. It was some sort of big day. We didn't go anywhere, though. Instead, we went to the couch and waited. I tried my best to calm him by lying extra quietly at his feet. We both leapt up when the doorbell rang.

On the other side was a small human, not a tiny one, but more mid-sized. I knew him, he'd been one of the many I play trained with before.

"Are you ready?"

I looked to Kind Man only to realize he wasn't speaking to me.

The boy nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay then. She's all yours." Kind Man then turned to me before saying, "Bellissima, go with Alex. Be a good girl and do everything he says and you know to do."

I still didn't understand many of the sounds even though I'd heard them lots of times. But I knew enough and the tone of his voice told me the rest. I was to go with this boy and follow his instructions.

Kind man patted my head before he handed my string to the boy. I gave him a long look over my shoulder to be sure this is what he wanted. I neither saw nor felt any hesitation.

This is some kind of test. I must do my best. I must do my best. . . .

"C'mon girl. Let's go."

Those words I knew. I turned and walked away by his side and this time, I didn't look back.

We went to a big building I'd been to before with Kind Man. It was crowded and noisy and filled with small humans of all sizes. This boy took me from room to room where we sat quietly for a while before doing the same thing all over again in a different place. I was so tense and alert for the smallest thing. I just knew I had to do everything right, but it was hard with so many little people wanting to touch me or play with me or talk to me.

The times I'd been here with Kind Man, the little ones would stay back because they respected him. But Alex was one of them, and I was pulled, tugged, and hugged whether I wanted it or not. Through every distraction, I did my very best to focus on my person and do what he told me or I sensed he needed.

Once, in the room full of food, a bigger small human came up to the boy and I could feel their angry feelings. I immediately stepped between them and pushed Alex back with my body until the crackling air between them eased.

It was a very long day and I was trembling with exhaustion by the time we left the noisy building. I was surprised and so glad when Alex took me back to my home with Kind Man. I thought maybe this little human was my very special person even though he smelled and acted like all the other boy humans his size.

After a short play session and a long rub down, I fell curled up in front of a warm fire at Kind Man's feet.

"Well, girl. I hear you did an excellent job today. I'm not at all surprised. You're my good girl, my beautiful Bellisima. And I think it's finally time, my sweet, sweet girl."

His love and clear joy made the long day fade in my mind as I slipped into sleep.

– + – + – + –

A very short time later, again Kind Man woke with excitement and nervousness. He was so wound up, we went for a run in the park to burn off his extra energy. His joy was my joy and I happily ran at his side. I could tell that today was different, that it was an extra special day for him and I looked forward to whatever the day would bring.

We ate and dressed as usual and as we were walking out the door, I felt a twinge of sadness from Kind Man wash over me.

Sad? He's been so happy. I must watch carefully today. I only want him to laugh and smile.

I knew we were someplace new as soon as I got out of the car. The new smells excited me, and they seemed to excite him, too.

The inside made me think of the big noisy place full of small people. This place was full of little humans, too. Though there were at least as many big humans as there were little ones.

A big lady led us into a large room where they sat and I lay at Kind Man's feet. He and the lady talked more human than I could follow, so I watched what was going on in the room in front of me.

There were two big human ladies, one smallish human boy, and a female of my kind. Two of the humans were sitting on the floor while the other stood and held the helper's string. She looked over at me and I could see she was overwhelmed by everything around her.

Her human regained her attention and said something to her I didn't know. She cowed a little and thumped her tail on the floor in obedience before standing and walking to the seated humans. The little boy human cried out in fear and turned away, burying his face into the chest of the woman holding him in her lap.

No, no, no! That's not how you do it! You're scaring him! Slower, lower! Don't you remember being scared of big things when you were little?

When the helper tried to do differently, her human commanded her again. She lowered her head and reluctantly did as she was told. I watched her conflict between what she knew to do and what she had been told to do. The told part won out and even though the little human rejected her, her person rewarded her for doing what she'd been told.

Oh, that's awful, and it'll never work.

In that moment, I smelled it. That awful smell that came before the screaming and crying. I knew she could smell it, too, but she had no idea what it meant, only that it repulsed her. She startled when the first scream came and I could see her desire to move away from the unpleasantness before her battle with her training to go to the small person and offer comfort.

She doesn't want to do this. Her person is no help. This is not good, not good for anyone.

As if hearing my thoughts, she turned to look at me with the saddest eyes.

"Come, big girl. There'll be another for you." Her person spoke and led her by us on their way out of the room.

"I'm sorry." I said with my eyes as she passed.

"Thank you." Hers said in return and she was gone.

I wanted to go to the screaming human child. He was so upset despite being in his mother's lap. I whined softly without even realizing it.

Kind Man reached down and stroked my head. "You want to go to him, girl, don't you?" As much as I felt him wanting me to look at him, I couldn't tear my eyes from this small human boy. "All right, then." And I felt his fingers release my string.

"Oh, I don't. . . ." I heard human woman from behind me speak before I tuned her out. My entire focus was now this small human in front of me, no human voice disrupted my concentration. Even his mother faded into the background.

When I was a few feet away, I lowered myself onto my belly and crawled forward slowly. Even though he was faced away from me, I knew he would sense me there. Slowly, so slowly, I approached as his screams grew louder and louder. My nose finally touched the bottom of his shoe. I eased back and waited before stretching out and nudging the same spot a little harder, and then a third time.

His head whipped around and he spotted me lying on the floor directly in front of him. The shock of seeing me there halted his cry for an instant before he began again kicking out at me. I saw a hand grasp his leg as if to stop him, and I slipped my head underneath gently to move it away. I sensed that he needed to see that he couldn't push me away so easily as well as learning I meant no harm. I had to wait him out.

He tried everything. All the things small humans had done to me in the past. I lay there and accepted it, neither moving toward him nor away. As he became engrossed in pummeling me, his cries ceased and his breathing eased. That awful smell stopped wafting from him. And still I waited.

Eventually, he sat back quietly in his mother's lap exhausted from the upset and effort. Only when he was surrounded by her arms did I move. I slowly rolled onto my back, put all my paws in the air, and lolled my tongue out at him grinning all the while.

Everyone around laughed to see me being so silly, but he didn't. He remained very serious, trying to figure me out. When I moved slowly to my side and nuzzled his foot again, he merely pulled it away without a sound.

His mother reached out at scratched my head. "See the doggie? Nice doggie. This is a nice doggie. Nice doggie."

I had no idea what the gibberish was that came from her mouth, but I could hear the hopefulness in her voice. I sensed the next moments were critical, the air crackled around us.

He took his thumb from his mouth, pointed, and said, "Doggie!"

"Yes, Edward. That's a doggie. A very nice doggie. Remember me telling you a doggie was going to come live with us? That you would have a very special doggie of your own?"

But he wasn't listening to her. He couldn't take his eyes off me.

"Doggie! Doggie! MY doggie!" He reached out and I put my head carefully under his hand.

My person! My person! My very, very special person!

I knew I could help this tiny human in ways no one else could. I'd been raised just for him, and he'd been made just for me. We were a team. I put my head gently into his lap and sighed when his arms wrapped around me in a hug.

Home. At last.


A/N: I know all too well the miracle a canine service partner can have in the life of a disabled individual. In the past four years, the explosion in service dog training for autistic children and their families is nothing short of remarkable. A little research for a school project turned up amazing stories and videos, and I was inspired to write this story for this cause. I'm not naive enough to believe that a dog partner is the panacea for all persons with an autism spectrum diagnosis, however, for those individuals for whom a dog partner is a fit, the change in problematic behaviors (such as escaping, meltdowns, and social isolation) is extraordinary. I offer these two wonderful videos as examples: http: / / www . youtube . com / watch?v = s5XvxOOsUZE and http: / / www . youtube . com / watch?v = XWQfZDkFk8Y

As with all such endeavors, diligence in research must be undertaken. Some trainers work very dog-centrically, while others are strictly people-centric, and anything in between. The pairing of the team truly is the critical element and must be done with reflection and care. Waiting lists are common. Service dogs aren't cheap, either, sadly. I sincerely wish there were affordable dogs available for everyone who needed one. Selection of a good organization/trainer is key.

I can only hope that this little story might inspire greater understanding and respect for helper dogs/animals of all kinds and their people.

xo,
Mal