Otter spent the last year with LifeLine training to become a service dog. Last week, he headed up north to Animal Farm Foundation, who will place him with a person that needs his help. As Otter's journey with LifeLine came to a close, his trainer and foster Katie Corbett reflected on their time together. Read on for to get an inside look at Otter's year with LifeLine.
A beginner’s guide to Otter:
Otter was born in the shelter along with seven lovely brothers and sisters. They were fortunate enough to go to foster care almost immediately after being born, and lived there until they were all adopted out or in Otter’s case, came home with me. His foster mom named him Otter. I don’t know why or how she came up with that name, but it fits him so perfectly. For weeks, we all tried coming up with a “better” name for him but no matter what we called him, we always kept coming back to Otter. And it fits him. On hills outside, he stretches his long legs out behind him and army crawls down the hill. He’s a land otter.
I fell in love with Otter when he was 8 weeks old. It was a fast and a deep love and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. For the last 349 days, Otter has been my right (actually left) hand man in every form and fashion. He knows me inside and out, and I him. We have done everything and been everywhere together, and I wouldn’t trade any single moment for the world. He has been the best companion I could have asked for. He laid by my side when I had the flu, but ran wild and free the day I was feeling better. He comforted me through the passing of a friend, and was by my side when another friend said, “I do”.
Otter is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. And I mean that in the most endearing way possible and not like a, “oh my gosh, I have to take care of this child” type of way. I’ve gotten to know all of his quirks, his likes and dislikes and what motivates him. To watch him grow up this past year, has been the greatest honor and privilege and to see him advance more in the following months and years, is something that I have long been waiting for.
Otter is a man of schedule. He likes his meals when he likes his meals, and nothing else will suffice. He has a morning bathroom break an afternoon bathroom break and an after dinner bathroom break. Everyone knew it and if you waited too long to take him out, he would let you know. We call it the “howl”, and somebody someday is going to find it incredibly endearing, just as I have. He adapts well to change but also gets excited to go somewhere familiar or do something we’ve done before. I have no concerns about him being able to adapt to a new schedule. He is proud of what he knows and he likes to show it off.
To say that Otter loves everyone is an understatement. He is the true embodiment of love and I can’t wait to share that gift with the world. The amount of lives he has touched in his short time with me is immeasurable, and to think of how many more... I’m constantly in awe of this dog. He knows when he needs to be a little more gentle with someone, he knows when he can play rough and he certainly knows who’s hiding the treats. We say that Otter was born an old man and not just physically, but spiritually too. His forehead wrinkles always leave people asking “what is he so concerned about”. He studies new people and really gets to know them. When he’s working, he is really working. And nothing will take him away from that.
But that’s not to say that he doesn’t have fun. Because boy does this dog have fun. At 8 weeks old, he could toss around a toy on his own until he was too tired to do it anymore. At a year old, he’s still doing the same thing. He loved to wrestle with his siblings at home, but he also respected their space and knew when to back off and to play by himself. Watching a dog set their own boundaries is really something to see. He never met a person or animal he didn’t like. Baby carrots, grape tomatoes and strawberries are toys... Unless you cut them in half, and then they’re treats. Cucumbers can be enjoyed any given way, however. He responds to Otter, Oliver, Mr. Box, a young Otter pup, Ottie, Box-a-lot and Otter Box... Depending on who you ask. He’s sensitive, but not soft, and picks up on emotions and energy around him always. If you lay a blanket down flat, he’ll crumple it up and make himself comfortable. He loves being outside, but not by himself.
Otter loves water. He’s a strong swimmer, but really prefers to splash around on the shore and then roll in mud. He politely sits on the bathmat every time I shower and waits for me to get out. One day he was afraid of a wheelchair. The next day, he was napping in it. He’s a very good napper and can nap anywhere and anytime. (I guess he learned from the best in that aspect.) And Otter loves car rides. I used to joke that whenever he was a cranky, just take him for a car ride and he would be out like a light. He is trained to ride in the floorboard of the passenger side car, so that he can ride well in a car with his handler in the seat, but he also has no arguments about making himself comfortable in the passenger seat. Some rules are meant to be broken. He doesn’t care too much for goats, but he loves pigs and chickens, and he will never pass up an opportunity to give you a high-five.
He’s a vocal boy when he plays, but responds to “quiet”. He’s most comfortable sitting on the couch, but responds to “off”. “Easy” means you’re pulling too hard on the leash, “place” means I need you to go lay down and stop playing bitey face with your sister and “hurry up” means it’s too cold for mom to be standing outside, and you need to go potty ASAP. “Kennel up” means get in your crate, “back up” means I want to throw this toy for you and “kiss” means I’m having a bad day, and I need your slobbers to make me feel better. “Close” means I need you to shut this cabinet door, “bring” means I need you to bring me my keys that I dropped across the room and “focus” means you’re paying too much attention to that cute girl across the way and I need you to put all your attention on me now.
I’m going to miss him every single day and with every fiber of my being. When I drive to work by myself, I’ll be wondering what he’s learning that day. When my dogs are looking for their buddy, I’ll remind them that he was never ours to begin with. Sure I’m sad. It’s impossible not to be. Impossible. But this journey was never about me. This is about a dog with a job and a purpose of much more than being a pet. The mold was shifted when he was made, and I hope that his new handler appreciates that as much as I have.
Every single moment in Otter’s life has led up to this. It’s time to hand off the torch. They say all good things must come to an end, but this is just his beginning. There is still so much more for him to do.
See you later, kid. I love you. I love you. I love you.
- Katie Corbett, DeKalb County Animal Services Rescue Coordinator