Our Dog Nation road trip brought us to the end of the first season in Washington, D.C., and a place where Andre and I could teach each other. As he was growing up, I taught him about what life was like back in my native country of Mexico. Now, he taught me about the history of his native country, the United States.
Washington D.C. is surprisingly full of nature — something you wouldn’t expect for a world capital — and it’s also full of monuments. Andre explained the reason for every one of them to me. In fact, “monumental” is a good description of the city.
However, there are better monuments to people than buildings and statues, and we saw those, too.
Probably the greatest “monument” you can create for a hero is this: say “Thank you” and show your gratitude. And in Washington, we met a group that puts this into action every single day. They’re called the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and they provide guide dogs for blind veterans, first responders, and their families. This isn’t trivial, either. Each dog takes two years to train and costs $45,000 to breed, train, and place.
I can’t think of a more deserving group. Both veterans and first responders risk their lives, and sometimes lose them, or suffer incredible losses in the form of injury — whether to a limb, their vision, or their psyches. The very least we can do is make sure that they are taken care of to show our gratitude for their sacrifices.
They’re also a reminder of what we have and how we can easily take it for granted. As Andre told me, “In D.C., you realize that just walking on the sidewalk is a blessing. I got to show you the realities and sacrifices that the country I was born in has made and will continue to make for us all.”
It might surprise you when I say that I have no idea how to help with the work Fidelco does other than to support their cause — but they’re the ones who know how to train guide dogs. I only know how to rehabilitate them if they have issues that can interfere with doing their jobs.
Fortunately, in D.C., I had the chance to help a service dog, Kona, so that she could remain with her family, Jay and Wren Kohne, and their young children. Jay suffers from PTSD and Kona is there to support him. Unfortunately, the family faced a possible decision that I’ve seen too many times — when the dog becomes a potential risk to the children in the family.
Of course it’s only natural in that situation to choose the kids over the dog, but I never like to see people have to do that. Fortunately, I was able to help and, in that small way, show my gratitude for all the sacrifices that Jay has made for us — and that Wren has, too.
The most gratifying moment for me, though, was when blind veteran Donald received his guide dog for the first time and they took a walk together. I can’t even begin to describe the happiness he felt because handing him that leash was literally handing him freedom. He no longer had to rely on a cane and his own senses to get around. Here was another living being, becoming his eyes and allowing him to walk faster than he had in years.
That moment, for me, is indelible, and I think it’s also one in which Andre saw exactly why I love dogs so much, because they can do so much for us and don’t even hesitate to do so. And, of course, I got to teach him an even bigger lesion when it was his turn to put on a blindfold and actually experience what it’s like to follow a guide dog. That was an enormous lesson in the concept of trust, and his respect for guide dogs went way up after that.
It was just one of many moments in the city when Andre and I got to become really close, and apparently he felt that as well. He said, “What really made me love this city so much was that you and I got to have a very personal bonding experience.” He taught me about the monuments while I taught him about the importance of engaging with our government, and the importance of actually talking to Congress in order to get laws changed or written. During our visit, specifically, we focused on laws designed to help provide military men and women with their service and guide dogs.
That’s really the least we can do — but we should never stop looking for those opportunities to do more. Being in Washington D.C., everything was a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who’ve come before, and the necessity of making sure those sacrifices were not made for nothing.
Stay calm, and show your gratitude!