International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
"Daddy's Little Girl"
by Quint Meenen
It started as a beautiful spring day. I was in the laundry room tidying things because company was expected for supper. The lilac was just beginning to bloom. The scent coming in through the screen was unusually potent. It's wonderful to be in a climate where all four seasons are so easily distinguished. Even knowing it was too soon for my visitor, I still looked at the driveway with every noise. Finally, she arrived.
Since we hadn't seen each other since January, the first order of business was letting the boys become reacquainted. Trav, a hearing dog, and Lucky, my service dog, had a blast. I don't know which one was happier Trav, to be out of the car, or Lucky, to have a playmate. We started catching up on events while the boys played. I already had started the meal so the final preparation could be done easily. Just then, the phone rang.
I heard the worry in my daughter's voice when she said, "Hi Mom." "Ummm . . . Mom, I think there's something wrong with Bootsie."
"What's the matter honey?"
"All of a sudden she can't stand up on her hind legs."
"What?" "Did she miss a step on the deck?"
She blurted, "No Mom. I don't know what to do. Can we bring her home?"
I glanced at the clock and said, "Bring her home."
I knew the vets' office had just closed. I called hoping someone was still there. Bootsie, my fourteen-year-old tri color Sheltie, would be best evaluated by someone who knew her history. I explained what I knew and that the dog would be home in five minutes. The receptionist sent a colleague to try to catch the vet who had left on time for the first time all week. I waited what seemed to be an eternity. The time passed so slowly. Finally, a voice on the other end said, "We couldn't catch her." My heart sank.
When she was seen in March for her annual shots and heart worm check, the vet commented this might be her last summer: arthritis limited mobility; congestive heart failure had become worse; cataracts had stolen her vision with the exception of the left periphery; and only very high, loud pitches were audible. The girls were upset when I told them. We all knew she wouldn't be with us forever but facing it is something else. Jana offered to make this summer special for her. In addition to a 'summer house', she offered a fenced yard. Not just every dog has a summer house! Bootsie had not had a fenced yard since 1987. She would relish having a fenced yard again. Knowing she was only five minutes away, we agreed to let them house Bootsie for the summer. I waited for them to arrive while I wondered if Jana's alarm was warranted.
A car pulled on the driveway. Eric came in holding Bootsie in his arms and placed her on the floor demonstrating her inability to use the hindquarters. She tried to get up to come greet me . . . her mind was willing . . . her body was not. Eric helped her to her feet but her fifteen pounds were too much to remain standing. I'd seen one other dog who had a stroke and now mine resembled that memory to a 'T'. Almost in tandem, my friend and I said we thought Bootsie had a stroke. I thanked the kids for getting her home so promptly. They left and we talked about what to do next. Deep in my heart I knew any emergency clinic I took her to would want me to leave her there. That was not an option for me knowing it might be her last night. Right or wrong, I had to be with her. I decided to be the first one at the vets' office the next morning. Hoping for good news in the morning, I offered Bootsie her usual prescription food. We sat down to supper also. Nobody had much of an appetite.
I tried to hide my distraction all evening. It was impossible to concentrate on my guest or anything else except Bootsie. Finally it was time to settle down for the night. My guest and Trav, a.k.a. "Party Boy" went to the guest bedroom. I chose to sleep in the recliner. Lucky settled down on his sheepskin bed behind the recliner. The last thing hubby did before he went to bed was place Bootsie on a blanket in my lap. Soon the house became quiet.
Sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. As I sat in the stillness, I stroked Bootsie's fur. It still had luster though now it showed signs of rust in the black. I remembered reminding my pigtailed little girls, who are now married, how to pet her gently when she was just a tiny puppy. The tears began to flow as the living room clock struck two. My thoughts went to Daddy who snuck turkey to her every Thanksgiving and Christmas we were together. That brought even more tears. My Daddy died this spring. I couldn't decide if my tears were for him or for her - it really didn't matter - losing a loved one hurts. My mind went to Lady, our sable Sheltie that preceded Bootsie. Oh, how Daddy loved my dogs - he spoiled them every chance he got. Filled with melancholy, I wept as I finally drifted off to sleep.
I woke with a start. My lap was wet. I put one hand on Bootsie and quickly reached out toward the lamp with the other. I felt her warmth and with it, an immediate sense of security. The light brought her warm body into view and I saw she wasn't breathing. Self doubt stepped right in where security had been. I questioned if the outcome would have been different had I taken her to the emergency veterinarian.
I was soiled and trapped in the recliner by her weight. I considered sending Lucky for help. I taught him this command as a game but had never actually used it. It was a path which would take him right past Trav's room. Would he go to the wrong room? Would he be side-tracked by Trav or wake the whole house? Could he by-pass the opportunity to play with his pal? Training never included anyone in the house but hubby and I. Gathering my emotions, I told Lucky, "Go, get help!" He shot out of the corner and went to hubby's bedroom. A few minutes later, they both appeared in the den doorway.
I didn't need to explain anything to my husband. He sat down beside me in silence and began petting her. After a bit, he began to tell me that Lucky got up on the bed to lick his face to wake him. I never taught Lucky this behavior - he improvised. Apparently, nudging his muzzle into hubby's hand wasn't enough this time and Lucky knew it. We sat there reminiscing about all the good times we'd shared as a family as dawn broke on a new day.
Bootsie was laid to rest in her favorite place in the backyard while I looked on stroking Lucky's fur. My mind drifted back to Daddy's grave side service a few weeks earlier. Just as he had been in the past, Lucky was there for me once again. The violets were just beginning to emerge from the top layer of soil. Hubby carefully moved the top layer of soil and gently placed it to the side. When he was finished securing her deep in the soil, he gently replaced the top layer. Had I not watched the whole process, I would not know she was there.
Below the blanket of violets which now covers her grave is my last pet in a lifetime of pets. Lucky's training program does not allow pet dogs or even a retired assistance dog in an assistance dog's home. I am allergic to cats. Bootsie was allowed to remain in my home because she was twelve years old when Lucky was placed with me. I realize every program has rules. This particular rule really hit home with Bootsie's death. A lifestyle choice in my quest for independence translates to ever changing consequences for the entire household. A lot of things were buried that day. It is sobering ... so very sobering. I will hold Bootsie's memory in my heart tucked away carefully with those of preceding pets. She has passed from my hands to Daddy's - those large, gnarled hands which tenderly snuck turkey to her and loved us both for so many years. Bootsie, my last little girl, is now Daddy's little girl. Treasure each moment with your loved ones as if it is your last - last moments are never announced.
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