By: Caitlin Berge (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Outstanding Essay)
In my sophomore year of high school, I was bullied ruthlessly by a girl who used to be my best friend. This caused me to withdraw from my high school, and enroll in an online high school. This meant I was home alone - a lot. I became lonely, and decided to go to work with my mom every day. She is a preschool teacher at our church. At this time, I had completed my puppy sittings and attended training meeting and was ready to get my first guide dog puppy.
My puppy Alan arrived on March 5, 2011. His named seemed quite serious for a puppy as goofy as him. But I quickly grew to love him and he became my best friend. Alan quickly got used to my daily routine, which included going to my mom's classroom. That year, my mom had an especially sensitive student by the name of Will. Will's family was experiencing some changes, causing him to be quite emotional at times. Will grew close to me, but more so to Alan.
Alan provided him a sense of security. Will knew Alan was always going to love him, and that Alan would wag his tail every time someone hugged him. Alan became a member of our class. He was always included in class pictures, he would go on field trips, and even sit on the rug for story time.
Alan is a very special dog. Almost everyone would say that about their dog, but Alan truly is special. He is more human than dog. He understands what you say to him, he understood what was being asked of him. But more amazing than that, he knew what someone needed before they knew it themselves. He knew when bad news was coming. Before the news came, he would come sit beside you, resting his head on your shoulder or lap, looking at you with his ever attentive eyes. He would sit there and wait - you could tell him “okay,” releasing him to do what he wanted - but he would just sit. If you moved, he moved. Whether it was me, or Will, or a stranger, he would wait. He wanted nothing more than to be there so you didn't feel alone. Alan is the best friend everyone wishes they had.
He not only taught us about kindness, but also about selflessness. When Alan was recalled, we were all devastated. Kids in the classroom cried. I cried. My friends cried. It was almost like a death for some, because he was just gone. We all wanted him back so desperately.
A few months later, we finally got good news: Alan had been partnered with Vicky Nolan from Ontario. Vicky is a former rower on Canada's Paralympics team, which is very impressive. But even more special for us, she is also a teacher for children with special needs.
When Alan first went back to the GDB campus, I had my selfish thoughts: He was my dog; I raised him. Why should someone else get him? But then we met Vicky. Every bit of selfishness disappeared. Meeting a person who is a perfect match for your dog, and is even more grateful for that dog than you are, is absolutely incredible. Alan was made for Vicky. I am sure of that.
I was taught the importance of selflessness and was lucky enough to instill that in the minds of a class of 4 year-olds. They understood that helping others makes you happier than anything else. It's better than Christmas morning. And even better than your favorite dessert. Seeing a smile that you put on someone's face is better than anything in the world.
Through the end of the school year, we remembered Alan. We talked about the field trips that he came on, and the stories that we read to him, and when he played at the role of a pickle in the class play. It was decided that we would make a memory book of Alan for his new family, so with the help of the preschoolers, we made a book for Vicky - specifically for her own two kids. We added pictures from the time Alan was 8 weeks old to when he was recalled.
At such a young age, this was a perfect level of giving. A book is something you can physically hold and pass on, which seemed to help younger kids grasp concepts. They all understood that all our hard work that was put into the book was going to be enjoyed by someone new, someone they had never met.
Alan not only taught me so many valuable lessons, but he gave me the chance to pass those along to those much younger than me. Although they were younger, I do believe they are lessons that will stick with them throughout their lives.