By Adria Nassim
August 13 will always be a special day to me. That was the day I met Thomas.
I had driven that morning from Bloomington, Ind. to Indianapolis with my parents to meet him. The staff at the Indiana Canine Assistance Network in Zionsville, Ind., had called a few days earlier saying they thought we’d match well.
ICAN had just picked up Thomas from the prison. When they brought the two-year old yellow Labrador in the room, I was struck by how strong and muscular he looked—but also by how sweet his face was. “Hi, buddy!” I said. I stroked his fur and continued to talk to him for a few minutes. “You’re such a good boy,” I whispered.
The ICAN staff handed me a small bag filled with dog kibble. They asked me to hold out a piece in front of his face to see if he would look at me or the food—he looked at me. We did this a few more times with the same result. Then we walked around the building, talking to him to keep his attention and praising him as he looked at me. I dropped his leash on the floor and asked him to pick it up and give it to me—he did.
I went home that night so excited.
I was also aware of what a significant commitment I was about to make. For the last 10 years, I had been raising Lucy, so I knew what a responsibility a service dog would be. But I just knew I had to do it right for him, for the inmates and volunteers who had poured themselves into his training process, and for myself, too. I had to give Thomas every chance in the world to succeed.
Over the 11 years we were partnered together, Lucy gave me purpose and somewhere to place my energy and focus after the academics of college were gone. In Lucy, I had someone who needed me every second of every day. She also made me more independent than my parents ever imagined she would. Together, we took an Uber, went to the grocery and to doctor’s appointments, and I crossed the street by myself for the first time ever. Lucy changed my whole life.
I knew I had to give Thomas the same chance.
So, in the weeks leading up to team training with the ICAN staff, I thought about what it really meant to be a good leader, partner, and coach to a working dog. I prayed for patience, guidance, humility, and fair leadership. I listened to songs like George Michael’s “Father Figure” and Jack Johnson’s “My Own Two Hands” featuring Ben Harper, over and over. I went from someone who was always being taken care of to someone who was responsible for the care and well-being of another living being.
Next to my human family, my relationship with dogs is probably the most significant I have ever had in my life. I guess you could say that for both Thomas and me, the water dish is always half full.
Thomas graduated ICAN in September 2021 and has been hired as a full-time member of Team Adria. Lucy is enjoying a comfortable retirement on Lake Monroe with my parents.