Sunday, January 27, 2013

Perfect After All

This post is for the tenth <"Assistance Dog Blog Carnival"> When I first read the topic for this round of the ADBC, I thought, "what a great topic! I'm excited to read all of the entries!" Then I promised to write something. So I thought… and thought… and thought about the topic some more and nothing was sticking. This morning, over a cup of Earl Grey Tea, I realized that the deadline was tomorrow and I still had no clue what to write. Perfect is such a loaded word. I know, at least for me, my striving for perfection started in childhood. I wanted to be perfect, for my teachers, my parents and my friends. But because I'm human-- with human frailties-- I inevitably fell short of the mark. When I got my first assistance dog, I admit to have watched far too many "Guide Dog Movies®" and read just as many "Guide Dog Books®" I had partaken of the "Guide Dog Program Koolade®" with gusto, and expected perfection! Instead, I got Rhoda-- a crazy, hyper, and very unfocused dog who had been damaged emotionally by her time in the guide dog training kennel. She ran me into a parking meter on our first trip out. She broke away from me to run across the road and tree a squirrel our first week home. She loved the game of getting away from me and did not have the faintest understanding of a "recall cue." She was wild, and I loved her-- perfectly. Love makes us want to try harder, work with more dedication, it makes us better, for the very act of loving is the only way we can reach the state of perfection. So here I am-- newbie guide dog owner, with no idea how to train a dog to do anything, beyond what I learned at the guide dog program. But because I wanted to improve our partnership, I was open to improving my skills, and as a dog partner in general. So I read books by dog trainers, and I worked with my dog both by myself and in classes. I played with her and built a bond of love with her. We both improved and were the better for it. And eighteen months later, when she was three and a half years old, she was diagnosed with canine lymphosarcoma and died twenty-five days later. It's a good thing I didn't know the pain of losing my dog before I met her-- or I'd have probably given up and walked away before even trying. Watching a being you love-- and with whom you have such an intense personal bond suffer, and die a little bit every day, is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy. I was helpless to fix her, or to ease her pain. The only thing I had was love. So I held her at night when the fevers came, and I bought her a hamburger and held it for her while she lay in the sun, and ate it. I gathered her friends together both canine and human to say good-bye. We went for walks, and lay in the grass together. And when it was time, I held her body in my arms and let her spirit go. I can honestly say that those eighteen months with Rhoda were some of the most intense, and frustrating of my life. However, those same eighteen months saw me growing and changing in new ways. If I had been matched with an easier dog, I never would have had the opportunity to grow and learn. I am a better trainer, a more compassionate person, and have loosened up quite a bit-- having swapped the Koolade® for some good old fashioned bourbon! With fifteen years under my belt, I can honestly look back and say that Rhoda was the perfect dog after all-- perfect for me.


  1. Thank you so much for contributing this post to the Carnival. This was beautifully written. Also, having dealt with behavioral challenges and my SD's cancer, there was a lot that touched me and resonated with me.

  2. My wonderful service dog, Simon, was diagnosed with cancer and our remaining days were very short after that diagnosis. I do understand the pain. Simon was owner trained, and we were together seven years. It was amazing how a big black loving dog could crush my heart the day I let his spirit go. I'm so sorry you lost Rhoda, but I'm glad you got to love a wonderful free spirited pup.