Baby Steps…

By Jeannie Fleming-Gifford

Puppies and babies. Both are awesome, and both can rock your world. Different schedules, instant needs, less sleep, and a whole new outlook. I often compare the two. Yes, I do understand there are major differences. But both bring joy and new perspective. Both can change a life.

Izzy was born to change someone else’s life. Specifically, she was born and is being raised to become a service dog for a child with autism. Izzy entered our life a month ago, arriving on a flight from North Carolina and a long car ride across the state of New York into northeast Ohio.

Our journey started in early January and it has been baby steps ever since. Unlike babies, puppies walk into your home mobile…a squishy, playful, energetic explorer on four legs. Curious and quick, they are often into anything and everything in the blink of an eye. And so, my days began with Izzy.

Our first few days were filled with baby steps, finding our rhythm together with everything being new. Like with a newly arrived infant, days seemed long and somewhat surreal with constant “busy” (potty) breaks outside in the darkest days of winter, short spurts of active play, and time sitting on the floor cuddled with this new pup on my lap while I attempted to steal a few more minutes of sleep to recover from the previous night’s interruptions. These early days are all about survival in a sense. It’s getting to know each other, introducing the basics of good household manners, and again, going outside for another busy break.

After the first few days passed, we started to find our groove. The words “baby steps” are more significant than ever.  Now, every little thing provides her big opportunity to learn and to help her reach her potential, changing a child’s life.

Baby steps as in…

The success of seeing Izzy signal that she needs to go outside and knowing she will have good manners to easily adjust to a new family’s household.

Standing on the sidewalk and letting Izzy watch as a car goes by, its headlights casting shadows in the dark road before us… praising and reassuring her when the engine grows loud and she looks unsure. Realizing that these moments prepare her to have confidence in other new situations.

Making a trip to the local home improvement store to slowly walk through the aisles, just to let her meet all new kinds of people and experience a new place that is appropriate to her young age.

Taking 50 minutes to walk 2 miles (when my running pace would allow me to do it in 20), only because Izzy needs time to explore, process and be rewarded for her curiosity and check-ins (that moment when she connects with me from the end her leash). Thinking that one day a parent will be on the other side of this leash, a child holding on to her vest, and being able to move at just the pace they need.

Sitting on the floor of my kitchen, this sleepy pup curled on my lap. Massaging her paws and stroking her back…knowing how important it is for her to have that comfort in being touched and how important that will be to a child with autism

And so, it will continue for nearly the next year…Izzy and I moving forward. Slowly, but with effort, curiosity and a commitment towards the mission to make a difference in the life of a family.

Baby steps. “Let’s go, Izzy.”

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