That darn dog. It is exchange day, the time when Ike will go to another family for six months.
Ike, who we have raised from a puppy, is, at eight months old, taking the next step toward becoming a service dog. Once he spends six months with another family he will be matched with a disabled man or woman and together they will go through another year of training.
But in the meantime, Patti and I have to give Ike up. We knew that was the deal going in. We knew he would go to another family and then to a disabled person.
But that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, Patti’s doing way better than I am. I won’t even go to the official exchange at the coordinator’s house. She’ll do it alone.
Before she goes, though, she brings Ike to me one last time. He has two annoying habits. The first is he leans against you when you pet him. Today, he’s leaning extra hard. It’s one of those endearing things that dogs cook up to keep innocent bystanders like myself under their spell.
I give him an extra rubdown, hoping to send him on his way without becoming a blubbering mess.
He looks up at me, and he knows he’s got me. He scans the room and trots off to bring me a sock.
Maybe it’s the Labrador retriever in him, but Ike retrieves everything. He retrieves old paper coffee cups from the side of the road when I take him jogging. He retrieves the newspaper from the front yard — when I let him, because he slobbers on it.
And he retrieves socks. In a house with six people, that’s a lot of socks to keep him busy.
That does it. He’s my best friend, and I’m shipping him off to God know’s where, where he’ll be tortured by 400 cats. He’ll be miserable, I’m sure.
Patti pulls out of the driveway with Ike, and I feel awful.
Two hours later, she’s back, with our newest pupil. Her name is Inga, and she’s Ike’s sister. She looks just like him — red fur, but curly, and shorter. She acts just like Ike, but much more dainty. She reminds me of the little elephant in that “Tarzan” movie who always wonders out loud if the water is clean. “Is it sanitary?” she seems to be saying.
But, boy howdy, is she smart. We thought Ike was the Smartest Dog in the World. Within two weeks of the swap, Inga was doing everything Ike was, but faster. Turn on a light switch? Check. Close cabinet doors? Check. Sit, stay and all of that other stuff? Check.
She will even go into restaurants and grocery stores and behave like a perfect young lady. Ike would behave — most of the time. Other times, he acted like a barbarian, trying to invade the sandwich counter.
But our Inga would never do such a thing.
She’s far too dainty.