Student reflection: On yellow labs, taxi cabs & the discovery of vocational passion

by Nancy Wolske

Schooner was a retired guide dog and, from the first moments of meeting him, my life journey began changing in unpredictable ­ways.

Preparing to adopt a retired service dog is complex. Your home is inspected, you sign a contract and agree to do and not do a variety of things related to his/her care. When I saw Schooner for the first time, I didn’t care what I had to do or sign. I fell in love with him and readied for our first trip home together. Like me, he enjoyed being silly and possessed a deeply tender, loving heart. He accompanied me to work each day; knowing he was laying nearby brought a sense of peace to my office life. We received the first of two animal-assisted therapy certifications and volunteered as a DoveLewis animal team for three years. We had incredible experiences, some profound, some simply joyful.

All the while, the significance of providing adequate pet care in elder settings became even more evident. As an administrator within the field of aging services, the observations I had noted over the past 20 years were suddenly galvanized. It was a consistent issue: unable to find reliable transportation to get a pet to routine services for even the most basic services. I witnessed so many instances in which a caregiver refused to help a senior with her cat or dog, stating “I’m here to help the resident, not his/her pet.” Dogs were not getting out to be relieved, let alone a decent walk, and countless other such examples.

And so, I would look at Schooner and tell him, “Someday we’re gonna fix this problem.” Jokingly I added, “We’re gonna start Yeller Cab.”  After all, Schooner was half yellow lab and half golden retriever, so the name choice seemed to fit. As I began sharing the name with others, the reaction was always positive, and the idea stayed with me from that point forward.

nancy-wolske-schoonerIn December 2007, Portland experienced one of the worst winter storms on record. I have some precious memories of playing with Schooner in the snow, but the day after Christmas we found ourselves driving Schooner to the vet. Within four hours, he was gone. Rushing him through the ice and snow with a veil of tear-filled anxiety was horrible. The drive home without him was worse. I wouldn’t talk about Yeller Cab again, for a very long time.

My life, once again, began taking on a different shape. My health was declining, and menopause, mixed with depression and severe allergies, had the compass. But, because of my years in aging services, I had become acquainted with Jenny Sasser. With her guidance and support, I became an undergraduate student of human studies at Marylhurst in 2010.

Working towards my degree, while learning to manage my wellness, has been instrumental in my healing process. Being a part-time student at Marylhurst has helped me trust in my sense of self again. Combining my life and professional experiences with my curious nature helped me to gain confidence in long-held ideas.

And so, Yeller Cab Pet Taxi began to resurface. Early in 2011, I shared the concept with a colleague who knew Schooner. Within 24 hours he came back with a resounding ‘let’s do it!”  I was not only elated, but also in shock. I would now begin balancing the start of a company with academics and earning a living.

But life wasn’t done trying my resolve and capacities yet. Within the next two years, my elderly mother and stepfather would need full-time, in-home assistance. As I continued to gain strength and build Yeller Cab, my stepfather was admitted to hospice. Just as Yeller Cab began to flourish, I lost my home and then my stepfather. I prepared myself for the subsequent loss of Yeller Cab and my enrollment at Marylhurst.

Once again, I was supported by my academic adviser, who encouraged me in taking a leave of absence. My mother moved into our home with my husband and our pets. Yeller Cab Pet Taxi continues to garner positive responses, and my health, although slowly, continues to improve. At 55 years old, I find myself passionate about what I do — passionate about providing my mom with all that I learned in those years of aging services, passionate about creating a positive culture of doing business and learning to take care of myself in the process.

There are still times when I wonder if I can keep up with the business and when I will get back to school. Then I get a hug or a note (or both) thanking me for offering Yeller Cab, and I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be — that all the things I’ve experienced have brought me here.

Learn more about Yeller Cab Pet Taxi

View the KATU News clip about Yeller Cab

Watch Schooner’s Story, a story produced by Nancy as part of Dr. Perrin Kerns’s Digital Storytelling class at Marylhurst

Nancy Wolske is the founder of Yeller Cab Pet Taxi. She has started her degree in human studies at Marylhurst University and plans to finish with a concentration in gerontology.