I recently worked on a story this spring about the UWRF Service Dog Training Program (soon to be known as ADEPT).
As I learned about the program, I also heard the stories of dogs that helped make a big difference in their owners’ lives, whether they were service dogs or not.
Many times, a pet, however beloved, is just a pet: a wonderful addition to a family, or a household.
But sometimes, fate brings a person and a pet together who need each other, and something a little special happens.
It didn’t save my life the way other humans say their pets have saved their lives. I certainly never had an animal drag me from a burning building or anything like that.
But I still believe I had one of those special pets that needed me as much as I needed her.
When I was eight years old, my family moved from the Twin Cities area to River Falls. Moving isn’t usually easy for kids. It was an especially tough move for me.
I was shy, a bit awkward, and experiencing city/suburb to small rural city culture shock. It wasn’t easy to make friends, and deal with a new school, that taught things just differently enough from my old school to make school itself confusing at first too.
A bit of background. My parents had promised me for years that we could get a cat when we moved to the country (this was a long-planned move).
The day after we moved in, the neighbor called, asking if we wanted a kitten. She’d found one up a tree, who’d escaped some kind of attack.
I named her Steeners. She was black and white, and highly intelligent.
And just like that, I had a friend. Someone who needed me (and kneaded me, being a cat). I wasn’t alone.
When I was lonely, or had a bad day, I could go home, and give Steeners a hug, and some cat treats, and listen to her purr, and the world didn’t seem like such a bad place.
And she, having been a kitten lost, up a tree with a healing bite on her ear, nursed back to health by my wonderful neighbor (who knew what she was doing), Steeners found a happy place to stay where no one chased her, and she was met with only treats, and love. (Though she never did warm up to bath time).
She liked to open the door for herself, casually stride into the house, and curl up on the good armchair she wasn’t supposed to touch. We’d see the door open, walk over to the armchair, and find her sitting there, purring smugly.
We chased butterflies. I rescued butterflies from her claws when I realized why she wanted to catch them. I cheered her on, however, when she captured mice.
We played, snuggled, and relaxed togther. I’d give her treats, like canned cat food. She’d leave me her idea of treats (dead birds, mice, etc.)
One day, convinced “sleeping under the stars” in the front yard would be really cool, my dad and I put out sleeping bags in the yard, and slept outside. Being still about 8 or 9, I got scared. The sounds were different, and it was dark enough I felt alone in the dark, and who knew what was out there?
And then I heard something coming toward me. It was Steeners. She calmly walked over, and crawled into the sleeping bag and curled up with me, and let me hug her to my side until I finally fell asleep.
She knew I was there, and knew I was worried, so she came to help me out. Her very nice kitty condo in the cat-house (it was a playhouse built for me but it turned into Steeners’s personal domain) had to have been warmer and more comfortable than squishing into a sleeping bag that smells like mothballs with a worried kid who probably squeezed her too tight. But she did it anyway.
She’s since gotten old, and, I firmly believe, moved on to Kitty Heaven. But I’ll never forget that one, very special, cat.