By Jenna Ebener
I had just spent an emotional weekend praying to God and ultimately deciding to fly to California for two weeks to train with a potential facility dog for our school. With each passing day, I felt even more confident that I was heading in the direction God wanted me to go. Work started to calm down, I got approval for paid time off from work and my plans started to fall into place. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the timing was perfect. It was close to the end of the school year and all but one of my 45 reports were done. As the day grew closer, I got more excited for this incredible opportunity.
The two weeks at team training were surreal and I spent much of that time in awe. Nine teams were present and all were incredible. We got to know each other well. I was so inspired by their stories and their plans for their new animal partner.
I smiled every day as I got to see the children of the skilled companion teams bond with their dogs. Every cuddle, smile and laugh were a reminder of why I was doing this. I am so impressed by the trainers and how skilled they were in knowing which dogs were best for which team. All nine teams were matched with a dog, and all of the matches seemed to be exactly what each needed.
On day three I was matched with the dog for our school, and I was filled with a sense of rightness. It was the dog who on day one walked over to me, crawled into my lap and promptly took a nap. It was the dog who on day two proceeded to take another nap in my lap, thus causing the trainer to let him stay with me instead of visiting with another team.
This dog seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I had been telling God over and over that I trusted him no matter what happened. Throughout the two weeks, God solidified my trust even more. I learned so much, not only about our pup, but about myself. I saw what type of trainer I was and where my faults were. I saw what I needed to work on to build a bond with my new partner and how to take better care of myself.
While it was an intense two weeks, I saw God everywhere — in every team, the trainers’ passion and knowledge, the dedication of the puppy raisers and the selflessness of the agency. I saw God in the volunteers who made us huge lunches, the daily conversations and laughter with the teams, and the nightly runs on the beach.
I saw God most strongly on graduation day, in the pure joy of every person, whether they were the ones receiving a dog or letting one go. I saw God in the puppy raisers’ eyes as they handed Gregory III over to me on the stage. Of all of the emotions I felt those two weeks, love was the strongest. I saw the love of every person involved in making this opportunity happen, and I am so grateful.
I am still trying to describe my gratitude to God. Each night as I journal, with Gregory sleeping on my lap, I thank God and ask for his guidance. The main way I can express my deepest gratitude is by making a difference with this incredible dog that God has blessed our school with. “All of this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with disabilities.)