Dogs are the only pets who understand human beings thoroughly and qualify to be service/therapy animals. This is an attempt to capture the account of one such guardian angel Sonic, who went on to support his own mentor who taught him the basic instincts for survival on war-ground. His mentor, the ‘handler’ (an army soldier with an additional responsibility of training ‘service dogs’) taught him companionship, protection, detection and entertainment. On the handler’s disablement, the dog (his ‘’pet’’) takes the lead and reciprocates his unconditional love, loyalty and dedication to his master.
“Park is a nice place. Trees, mushy grass, soft breeze and most of all, nice people. Every day, I get to look at scores of pet-parents strolling in the park with their pets. I have come to recognize many of them. Not that I envy their pets, but I feel I’m somewhat different. Not a pet-material, you see! Sitting idly or playing with a ball/Frisbee in the owner’s lawn or being shown to vets for “maintenance”: I would rather not be a part of all these. I was not born to be an arm candy.
People around, are awestruck to see me taking the lead of my disabled master. Slowly and carefully I tow the lightweight wheelchair-bound war veteran, who was wounded-in-action. I’m there for everything he needs, from picking up dropped things to pulling his clothes from the wardrobe. I keep his depression at bay by taking him on long wheelchair-walks for a fresh breath of air and to catch-up with the world outside. While keeping his fragile health condition in mind, I tend not to make him tired, and guide him back home.
I’m Sonic, a Germanshepherd, an ex-MWD (ex-Military Working Dog) called “K-9”. Handpicked out of thousands of dogs who appeared for selection, I was among the 700 odd dogs to be trained for 18 weeks at ‘Air Force Base’. And was one of the 530 dogs, who successfully completed the grueling training program and got stationed in search mission/operations in 2005 by AF (Air Force). For most of the time, in my 7 years of service, my master (who is disabled now) was my ‘handler’ .In the army, he was fondly called “MOS31K”. I was trained to sniff out explosives, and helped seize crores of rupees worth of buried/hidden explosives wrapped in 8-12 layers of different materials.
‘Atom’, my best friend, was a golden retriever. He too, specialized in sniffing out explosives. Unfortunately, in the year 2009, he died in a blast when trying to unearth a huge quantity of liquid explosive (Isopropyl nitrate). I attended his ‘full-police-funeral’.
He would have been proud if he knew he got the highest respect, a dog can ever get. How I wish I could have died-in-service to get a ‘full-police-funeral’, but nevertheless, I am proud that I not only survived all the war camps and search missions but am also serving my ‘handler’ as a ‘pet’ post my retirement in 2012.
Once retired, my army colleagues (military dogs) were euthanized, but changes in legislation and law, in the year 2000, made it possible for us ex-MWDs to be adopted as pets. Since, I got trained under the ‘Puppies behind Bars’ program, (which certified me to assist military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder) I was one among the very few dogs to be designated as a ‘service-cum-therapy’ dog.
On the adoption day, my disabled master was offered to adopt me as a ‘service-cum-therapy’ dog, but he refused. Since we were a team earlier, he wanted to adopt me as a ‘pet’ only. He wanted me as a companion, and a trustworthy aide. The war had not only left him injured but had orphaned him too. His brain injury restricted his locomotion and he surely needed help, but as a hardcore ‘military personnel’ at heart, his steely will-power prevents him from accepting and surrendering to his limitations.
He took me home, and for the first few days, I observed that he was alone, needy and deserved help, but he would not allow me to help him in any manner. I was put into a predicament. My mind commanded me to help him whereas his orders refrained me from doing so. He used to order me to behave like a ‘pet’ and not like a ‘service-cum-therapy’ dog. Gradually, I figured out what to do. I didn’t want to make my master feel weak and ‘in the lurch’. I knew he was too proud to take my help as he was my ‘handler’ and he taught me my baby steps, he forgot that I grew with him, mentored by him, and learnt responsibility from him, so playfully, and without his knowledge I started supporting him.
Eventhough he leads a retired life, he follows a simple but strict routine and I am thorough of all of it. Brushing his teeth is the first ‘ordeal’. Yes, ‘Ordeal’. He hardly could get up from his wheelchair which doubles as his couch. From there, picking up his automatic-toothbrush, I can see his face wriggle with pain and most of the times his fingers would not hold it, and there it falls! Now picking it up was a bigger ordeal.
I playfully run and grab it from the floor and run around him as if I am teasing him to snatch it from me. Keen to grab the toothbrush from me, he falls prey to my prank and wouldn’t even know that I’m trying to help him. I play this “Snatch-this-if-you-can!” game twice or thrice while he tries to grab it and pretend to lose the game.
Back then, he used to start his day by jogging 3 miles a day wearing his favorite jogging-shoes. His muscles were firm and strong as a result of this daily routine. But today, the shoes lay untouched and his muscles are weak and un-exercised. I can’t see him live in this condition anymore. Just like the toothbrush, I play the “Snatch-this-if-you-can!” taking away his shoes and later “losing’’ them to him.
One day, while chasing me around the house for his shoes, he fell off his wheelchair. And in the spirit of the game he slowly managed to hold the door nearby and stood on his own, only to fall back onto his wheelchair. These little games and tricks keep him occupied for the entire day. Now, he has got the strength to wear those shoes, and by holding a firm surface and leaning against the wall, he slowly gets up from his wheelchair. I know it has taken some time but I will not give up on him.
Don’t be surprised, very soon my master is going to walk with me to the park for our evening stroll.
From being a vegetable stuck to his wheelchair, my master has come a long way. From taking his baby steps, he’ll surely return to his 3 mile jogging routine. Now, it is for you to decide who the handler is, me or my master.”