Sasha takes being a guard dog to a whole new level. You may have seen her in our vlogs, maybe you came across her during a contest and REALLY wanted to pet her, maybe we were at a point where you were even allowed to! No matter what, she's been our most popular member at Spintonix, and it's easy to see why. But why on earth even have a service dog for a color guard organization? This is her story.
To start at the beginning, Sasha was abused as a puppy. Therefore she was stolen from her abusive owner and ended up with me. Some might say she has been spoiled, but with as much training as I put on her, she deserved every bacon snack and snuggle on the couch that she received. As I got to know Sasha better and she grew into a dog with human-like personality, I realized that she was incredibly empathetic. She could tell if someone was ill, tired, or just having a bad day, and she knew exactly how to interact with them. I thought that would be the perfect personality for a dog to become a therapy animal. Thus, the training began. It was not terribly intense, but I enrolled her in obedience class and then did a lot of reading about service dogs and how they should be trained to operate in public. Just working with her once in a while rather than on a daily basis helped her to learn without getting stressed out, and the training ended up lasting multiple years. With me working on my degree and then my career, there just wasn't any real push to complete her training and get her career off the ground.
The one day, she became necessary and we didn't even know it. I lived alone at the time, so I regularly took Sasha to SIG rehearsals with me. I didn't have anyone at home who could care for her while I was gone for the entire weekend, and she couldn't stand to be left alone. But something about having her at rehearsals changed the entire team. She spent a lot of time greeting all of the members, sitting with them, and even "helping" them stretch. When they had bad days or felt like crying, she would simply sit next to them and let them pet her until they felt better. Many times a bad week could be dissolved by coming to Spintronix on the weekend and spending a few minutes with Sasha. On contest weekends she would wait faithfully by the door for us to return and no matter whether we felt joy or utter defeat, she was there to support it all.
A couple of years after Sasha had gotten used to spending all of her weekends with the SIG crew, we had a new member who had a prescription for an emotional support animal. However, this member's ESA of choice wasn't very mobile or portable. This caused us to return home from competitions very early so that the required amount of daily ESA time could be met. However, we learned that the ESA prescription didn't have a requirement of being the specific animal that the member owned, and therefore if there was another registered ESA that could come with us to competitions, the prescription would be filled. Thus began the most intense training in Sasha's life, but she loved every second of it.
After earning her certification as an emotional support animal, Sasha accompanied the team to all of our winter guard competitions. She became a token of luck for our members to all pet her before they took the floor, and she's always there when anyone needs her. She's resolved conflicts and built people up after emotional breakdowns. She's sat through long contest days even though she doesn't understand color guard herself, but she knows what her job is and she does it well. She quickly became a celebrity in her own right, as many of the other guards in our circuit knew her name and wanted to know her story. Most understand that they aren't allowed to pet a service animal, which is good because Sasha needs to serve "her kids" on the Spintronix guard first, but those who hang around long enough know that they can sneak in a scratch or two once all of the SIG members are busy. I even firmly believe that her very presence was the difference that pushed our team to take gold in our class at state championships this year. Having her as a member of the team has been the greatest blessing to our organization.
If you have questions about Sasha, leave them in the comments section! We would love to answer anything about her that you are interested to know! And if you see us at a contest make sure you ask before you call her name or pet her. :-)
Photos are by ©2017 Belinda Johnson.