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You've Got a Fur-iend in Me

I was in a wedding this month. Actually, I was hired to be in a wedding...

I got an email from a former client about Wally – a dog I’d worked with almost three years ago. I’d been helping Wally overcome resource guarding issues, and his reactivity to strangers and other dogs. Chiya, his human mom, worked with him a lot in between our training sessions with counter-conditioning and pattern games, and Wally gained a new confidence that really helped him deal with the stresses that many dogs encounter in everyday life. 

I was surprised to see an email from Chiya, but the note wasn’t about training. She and her fiancé Geoff were getting married, and wanted Wally to be part of the ceremony as the ring bearer. She wanted to know if I would pick up Wally in Philadelphia, drive him to the wedding at the Huntington Valley Country Club, get him ready and escort him down the aisle when they asked for the ring. Then supervise him after the ceremony for the wedding photos, and drive him back to their friend’s house in Philly. 

I was a little concerned, as I hadn’t seen Wally in more than two years, but I said yes. This would be an adventure… Plus, I had a tuxedo in my closet that would match Wally’s custom-made formal wear, I’d always enjoyed working with Chiya and Wally, and I was looking forward to meeting Geoff. Plus, Chiya had reminded me, “Wally loves you.”

So the morning of March 9th, I drove to Philadelphia in heavy traffic, stressed that somehow I’d be late and ruin the wedding, that Wally would not remember me, or that he wouldn’t want to ride in the back seat of my truck. 

Plus… it was pouring rain. 

I made it to Chiya’s friend Dan’s house, where Wally was staying. Wally greeted me at the door in his little tux, and was so happy to see me (maybe because I was dressed just like him!).

We took Wally out to my truck and put his bed in the back seat, and strapped the seat belt tether to his harness. Wally climbed into his bed and settled in. He was a complete angel for the ride to the country club. I’d check back to see if he was still awake, and he would just look at me with a concerned look on his face. This was a totally new experience for him.

By the time we got to the country club, the rain had let up. I called our contact person, and she met us outside, and brought us in through the side door (remember, we were to be a surprise to the wedding guests and the wedding party!).

They let us hang out in a meeting room, where I got Wally some water, took him outside for a quick walk, attached the box with the ring to the back of his tux, and then we practiced how we would walk down the aisle.

Wally looked a little nervous, but I knew he would do his best to deliver the ring and save the day. Still, I didn’t know how he would react to seeing the people, if he would resource guard the ring, or just bolt for the nearest door…

The service started, and we quietly waited down the hall and around the corner from the ballroom, listening for our cue. When it was time to ask for the ring, the cue to make our entrance would be the song, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, from Toy Story. 

“He’s not going to bark, is he?” our contact person from the country club asked. 

“No.” I replied. “Wally’s got this.”

Suddenly, I heard a piano playing You’ve Got a Friend in Me. We were down the hall and around the corner, so we had to really hustle to get to the ballroom. We stepped into the room, with everybody looking back to see what was happening, and the two of us started our practiced walk down the aisle.

Then Wally saw all of his friends – his aunts and uncles and friends in the seats! His eyes got big and he raced to greet every single one of them. The guests laughed and cheered as we made our way down the aisle, with Wally having the time of his life, feeling like a celebrity walking the red carpet.

We got to the front of the room and Geoff picked up Wally, held him up to get his due applause, took the ring from the box, and slipped it onto Chiya’s finger.

It was beautiful. 

As the service continued, Wally and I disappeared through a side exit, and made our way back down the hall. We made eye contact, I tossed him a treat, and felt the connection that teammates often do. “We did it, and you’re such a good boy,” Wally remarked with a grin. 

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