Puppies don't judge. That's why it doesn't bother me too much that I totally blew my chance to make a good first impression when I met Samurai last week.
I had intended to savor that special moment when the prison door slides open to reveal my newest service dog-in-training. I would press the image into my memory like a flower between the pages of a book. Then, I'd take Samurai's leash and greet him with my "I'm your weekend Mom and you can trust me" voice so he'd feel safe and secure.
Here's what happened instead: I told the prison guard on duty that I was there to pick up Samurai for his first weekend out. When I turned around, I noticed Crystal, a fellow puppy raiser, waiting for her dog. I asked who she was there for. "Bear," she said.
Bear? The name pinballed through my consciousness, setting off buzzers and lights and bells. My eyes widened. Crystal had Bear! I hadn't seen Bear since March when I had to give him up to another weekend puppy raiser. Now Crystal had him, doing her part in the effort to condition Bear to change.
The reward centers in my brain were flashing the word "BEAR!" when a correctional officer stepped into the waiting area with a tiny yellow Lab puppy pulling on his leash. It was Samurai. My gaze brushed over him and locked on Bear, who followed with a second officer. There was my baby nearly all grown up now at nine months old. Even when I accepted Samurai's leash and food from the officer I couldn't tear my eyes from Bear. I was a lovesick teenager with my annoying little brother running around next to me.
"Bear! Remember me? The first person who had you?" I said in what I now recognize as a slightly desperate and sad attempt to show Crystal that I was once prominent in Bear's life. Crystal let me say hello and I fell on Bear, scratching those ruffly ears and kissing his smooth head and generally trying to fit three months of separation into 30 seconds.
When it was time to say goodbye, I remembered Samurai, who was sniffing around the floor. He didn't seem to care that I had started off our first weekend by ignoring him.
I positioned my new puppy by my side and spoke encouragingly to him as we walked out of the prison. Our first meeting wasn't ideal, but I have -- fingers crossed this time -- 12 months to make up for it.