As 2010 begins, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world because I am living with two service dogs, Morgan and Whistle. Morgan is retired and I am so thankful he has made it through another year. He turns 12 on May 1, 2010 and I know his remaining time on this earth is limited. He has had some serious health scares in the last two years and I have been amazed at his resiliency.
Although Whistle and I have bonded into a strong working team, Morgan remains ever watchful ensuring that Whistle adequately performs his job. Retiring a service dog and ultimately saying good-bye to a service dog is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I have only done so once. I can only liken it to becoming disabled all over again. I felt so helpless.
As a member of a service dog team, I feel it is my responsibility to take the best possible care of my service dog. I vigilantly monitor their food intake, treat distribution, types of toys, and everything that goes and comes from every orface of their bodies. I think that is what makes it so difficult to lose a service dog to retirement or death. I believe that my job is to take care of them as well as they take care of me.
I will never forget the day when I lost my first service dog, Ramona. I felt like someone had ripped my heart out of my chest and showed it to me. I was heartbroken. I still am.
As I anticipate Morgan’s death in the not too distant future, I am so fearful of experiencing the same emotions that ravaged my body when Ramona died. I don’t think I have ever felt such pain and agony. Since her death, I have tried to process those feelings and cope with her loss.
I am especially interested in identifying those feelings and reactions as I anticipate my loss of Morgan. I did not think I could be closer to any working dog than I was with Ramona. However, Morgan and I were once virtually one being. He knew my every move and I his. From the moment we met, we were inseparable. Even though he is retired, he stills keeps a watchful eye on me and his ears are always alert. When I call Whistle for assistance, it is Morgan who still arrives first.
The bond we develop with these working dogs can not be described or defined. My love and adoration for all of my service dogs knows no limits. It is a feeling and a loyalty that has no bounds. We simply take care of one another. It is a lifetime commitment. Unfortunately, as we all know, a lifetime has a beginning and an end.
As the day when I am placed with a service dog is one of the happiest days of my life, the day when I must say good-bye to my partner is one of the saddest days of my life. I know that 2010 may be the year when I have to say good-bye to Morgan as he turns 12 and continues to struggle with his health issues.
I hope and pray that I will have the courage to be by his side when his time comes and to honor and respect him in the manner he so deeply deserves. I don’t know when Morgan’s time will come but what I do know is that it will come. I also know that I want to be there for him as he has always been there for me.
As 2010 begins, I am thankful for each day that I can spend with Morgan and I am hopeful that 2010 will not be the year I must say good-bye to him. The only thing that brings me any consolation when saying good-bye to my service dogs, is that I believe I am not saying, “Good-bye forever my dearest friend.” Instead I am saying with all of my heart, “Good-bye my dearest friend until one day when I will see you again.”
As the holidays draw to a close, I am concerned about changes I have recently witnessed in Whistle. My sister and her family visited during the Christmas holidays. Whistle was thrilled to spend some time with my niece and nephew and my nephew’s girlfriend. They are all college students with boundless energy and Whistle reveled in playing with them and falling asleep on the couch with them.
It did not occur to me until after they went home this week that Whistle wanted to remain in the holiday mood. I noticed that when we went out into public he was sniffing quite a lot, more than usual. I commanded him to heel but he was more interested in the crumbs on the floor. Overall, he seemed distracted and much more interested in smells and morsels of food in his immediate vicinity.
This was unusual behavior for Whistle. I began to wonder, “What happened to my usually attentive service dog?” His behavior had definitely changed and his responsiveness to me had diminished. He was clearly more interested in other things than working with me.
And then it dawned on me, he had been unharnessed most of the time they were visiting. He had romped and played with them all day and late into the evening. He had sniffed every yuletide aroma during all of the abnormal cooking and food preparation that occurred throughout their visit. He was a carefree dog for the entire week. Basically, he was on vacation and he was loving it.
Franz and I live alone with Whistle, my retired service dog, Morgan, and three kitties. Whistle was not used to this much activity around the house but he was clearly enjoying it. I don’t think he has any interest in returning to our normal routine.
So it begs the question, “How do we handle our service dogs during the holidays?” Do we let them overindulge like we do throughout the holiday season or should I be Ebenezer Scrooge and require him to keep working without any holiday revelry?
I learned this season that I need to be more aware of how Whistle spends his time during the holidays. Like all of us, I think he should have some holiday fun but in moderation. I allowed Whistle to overindulge in treats and youthful attention and afterward I have a young dog on my hands that had rather play than work.
Whistle and I have to get recertified in January as part of Paws With A Cause’s requirements for all working service dog teams. It is clear to me that Whistle and I have to get back into shape. We need to work on his commands and my overall expectations of him as a working dog.
Whistle and I both overindulged during the holidays and now, we have to get back in shape. We both must set and adhere to some strict New Year’s resolutions that include sharpening our obedience and public access skills. It’s almost New Year’s day and the party is definitely over for me and Whistle!