Our opinionated puppy-in-training has argued herself out of a career.
NEADS has made the decision to pull Tinsel from the program. She'll be adopted as a pet. A smart, fun, opinionated pet.
I'm disappointed, but not surprised. Tinsel was whip-smart and loved to work (just look at the video below.) But she barked and whined from our first day together and never really stopped. Over time, Tinsel hinted in other ways that she'd be better suited as a pet than a service dog. In prison, she was afraid of the fire escape stairs and would bolt at loud noises. One weekend with me, Tinsel panicked in the parking garage stairwell, flattening her body against the cement floor while desperately searching for a way out. But it was when she growled at another dog who was moving in on her toy, that I said my mental goodbye. There's a name for what she did: it's called "resource guarding." A pet dog can get away with that behavior; a service dog can't.
After saying goodbye to Bear two months ago, I thought this would be easier. But Bear's still in the program. Tinsel failed. I was losing a puppy I adored and giving up my vision of her future. It felt like a broken promise.
On the drive back to prison Sunday, I swiped at my eyes, knowing that if I gave in to the tears, they wouldn't stop. Tinsel was stretched out in the backseat, her body swaying and bouncing gently with the contours of the road. To her, it was just another ride in my car. She didn't know it would be our last. I forced myself to think like her, no past or future. No regrets. It got me into the prison parking lot dry eyed. I pulled open the car door, gave Tinsel one last inhale of a kiss, and delivered her to the correctional officer who walked her out of my sight and out of my life.
I know I'll feel better when Tinsel goes on her next big car ride, the one that will bring her home to her adopted family. Then I'll be able to finally stop thinking of her as a failed service dog, but instead, as a happy, slightly opinionated pet.