As a poet and writer, I often find myself in the role of performer, reading my words before an audience. That audience can be small and intimate, in a cafe or a classroom, or it can be large, on a theater stage with a microphone, complete with a tech crew in a sound booth.
Ripley loves performing. She has had a lot of practice. During her time working with me as a service dog, for five years I ran a program of readings about domestic violence awareness; I also started a reading series called Books on Stage, and served as the emcee for that. I led local poetry slams for teens, appeared on panels at local writers conferences, and in 2014, I published two books, which led to nearly 20 readings in Northern California and elsewhere, plus over six radio shows. Ripley thought being on stage was simply part of her job, and she also thought all the applause was for her.
But since I’ve had Rocky, I have had relatively few opportunities to get this new service dog in the limelight. I’m a newcomer to New Mexico, and am just starting to make connections with the literary scene here. I have been going to a poetry open mic held at Palacio’s down in Mesilla once a month, and have met a bunch of nice writers there. However, it’s a small crowd, in a very sedate setting, so not much of a challenge as far as testing stage presence. I had the great good fortune to be invited to Eastern New Mexico University to read, and Rocky went along for that, of course. We were in a classroom, with about 30 people in attendance. Yet somehow it didn’t have an “auditorium” feel, because I didn’t use a mic, the lights were standard classroom lights, and it was very relaxed. (Don’t get me wrong; it was a fantastic reading for me; I just don’t think Rocky learned much from it!)
Then a few weeks ago, my friend Lauren Goldstein contacted me. She is a poet, and had been given the assignment of rounding up a few other poets to read at the Women’s Suffrage rally at the downtown plaza on Aug. 26. Was I interested? Yes!
This opportunity had all the right challenges I had been looking for: a real stage, with a microphone and lights; a crowd of unknown size, which would be potentially distracted and busy; and a fairly long waiting time before going up onto the stage, with more distractions (food vendors, other dogs, random people all over the place). I really had no idea how Rocky would react given all of this, especially to that moment when we stepped up onto the stage, I gave her the command to lie down, and focused all of my attention onto the the faces of the crowd and the poems in my notebook.
I shouldn’t have worried. Rocky walked right up on the stage without a hitch, and laid down immediately facing the audience. She didn’t move a muscle during my reading. True, it was short – only two poems, about five or so minutes. But not once did I have to worry about what my dog was doing or not doing. She was precisely as I needed her to be – attentive, alert, not a distraction. I finished, bent down to pick up my cane, and Rocky stood and accompanied me off the stage, all of it as if she had done it a thousand times before.
Oh – and she did not even react to that snappy little dog who tried to lunge at her right before we went up the stage steps. Damn those extendable leashes! Good girl, Rocky!