Festooned in matching purple mortarboards to recognize Casper the service dog’s convocation, the 2-year-old yellow lab and his new companion, 5-year-old Max Stiles, were reunited Sunday on a northwest Santa Rosa driveway during a surprise drive-by graduation party.
A “Congrats Grad!” decoration that hung across the family’s garage door acted as a backdrop to a tearful moment that certified the two would be companions from the cloudless sun-splashed day forward.
Once Casper was led over to the family and the line of cars began rolling down the quiet street with honks and shouts of “Congratulations,” Max, who has a neurological speech disorder, became animated. A camouflage face mask hid his smile as he waived back while seated on his mother Desiree’s knee and greeted some familiar faces — human and canine — during their distanced, coronavirus-safe visit.
“It’s great for the family. We love him and we just created a bond with him over the last two years, basically since he was born,” James Stiles said of Casper, while Max knelt next to the prized pup. “It’s awesome for us to have this finalized.”
Max and Casper, who was one of a litter of nine born on Halloween 2018, developed an almost instant connection, said Michelle Chastain, a speech pathologist who also raises and trains service dogs for Forestville nonprofit Paws As Loving Support, or PALS. She noticed the difference between Max’s progress was night and day when he was around…