When the kids at work finish their treatment and move on, we hold a discharge party for them, to celebrate the hard work they have done, their accomplishments and growth, and their future. When it came time for Ross to complete his puppy training and duties as a "therapy" dog, as he prepared to enter the next phase in his life - formal guide work training - I thought, what better way to help the kids understand his departure than to have a discharge party for him?
In true discharge party fashion, I ordered a cake from our kitchen, and invited everyone from Ross' "treatment team" to attend. Literally, I invited the entire campus - kids and adults alike.
At the end of Ross' last day at work, we gathered in the cafeteria to celebrate his transition to "puppy college." The kids who knew Ross well excitedly educated the newer kids about Ross' work as a guide dog, and his upcoming adventures at "puppy college." Ross laid on the floor as kids huddled around him, petting, hugging, and kissing him. A little boy who tends to be loud and aggressive quietly apologized for almost accidently stepping on Ross' tail. As the party ended, one of his long time fans pouted because Ross had not given her any kisses. As she sat down to say one last good-bye to him, he gently put his paws on her lap, stood up, and smothered her face in kisses.
As I loaded Ross into the car that night, tears came to my eyes as the finality of it all hit me. In one year, Ross incredibly changed the lives of many children, brightened the days of stressed staff, and singlehandedly changed the culture of a large mental health agency - all with his big brown eyes and sloppy tongue. Residential treatment will never be the same.