Thirty Years With Harness In Hand
I brought my first dog home to Birmingham from The Seeing Eye in 1985. Her name was Sadie and she was a yellow Labrador. Since then one dog or another has been guiding me everywhere: at work, on leisurely walks, on mountain trails, through busy airports, and on bustling city sidewalks.
Right now my current Seeing Eye dog, Quan, is snoozing sprawled on the living room floor, Soldier, the retired Seeing Eye dog (not my own) is snoozing on the luxury bed just to my left, and Lukas, the shepherd malamute cross is watching the world go by from the back porch.
Quan is my fifth guide dog meaning I’ve lost four of these magnificent animals. I had to give Sadie away when I retired her but was able to keep the next two dogs – Quoddy and Beverly – after they retired. Quoddy died in her fifteenth year and Beverly in her twelfth. And in both cases—due to terminal illness – I chose to have them euthanized.
It was different with my Kismet dog whom I brought home from Seeing Eye in 2005. Kismet was a classically marked German shepherd and has been described as “a force of nature.” She was the ultimate professional, a strong alpha female, and worked brilliantly for a decade and a half. I knew retiring Kismet and keeping her as a pet as I had done with Quoddy and Beverly was going to be a problem. Hence, it had always been my dream that Kismet be able to work until her dying day. But goodness me, when that day came, I was in no way prepared.
She Died In Our Arms
A few days before Christmas last year Kismet woke us up with sounds of respiratory distress. We took her to our local vet who did the best he could but could find nothing wrong. He prescribed medicine for anxiety and we brought her home. She was better over the course of the day but again woke us up in the middle of the night.
So the next day we took her into Birmingham and spent five hours with another vet who did much more advanced testing which, once again, was inconclusive. Deciding to treat everything that might be wrong with her we came home with three medications, two of which we discontinued as the results of the tests came back.
And through it all Kismet kept working – and working with a spring in her step. Good girl. She even guided me when we went to my brother and sister-in-law’s home for Christmas dinner. She guided me the next day when we ran an errand – we had to get dog food – with three big dogs in the family. I gave her the day off on Sunday and we all rested.
I woke up early Monday morning and took Kismet with me so my husband could get a little more sleep. As I took Kizzy outside I noticed she seemed a little unsteady on her feet so I took things very slowly. When we came back in I settled her on her luxury bed beside my computer desk, started a pot of coffee, and settled down to read the news and see what friends had been up to on social media.
An hour later Kismet’s breathing changed. Slipping out of my chair I settled on the bed beside her and found her unresponsive. I raced to the bedroom, awakened Jim, and told him to come quickly. We were both holding her, telling her she was a good girl, when she breathed her last.
Waiting For The Call
I don’t know how I made it through the next week. Thank goodness for my day job with the US Department of Veterans Affairs – it was my refuge for the next five days. As it was essentially a holiday week for most of the world all Seeing Eye could tell me was they didn’t have a dog for me at the time. I buried myself in work and somehow made it through the week.
They had me penciled in for a class at Seeing Eye which began February 1 but the class supervisor was out that week so I had to wait for his return the following week to learn if they had a match for me.
The call came Tuesday at noon. When my phone spoke the area code, 973, I snatched the phone off my belt and answered while practically holding my breath. Yes, it was the class supervisor! A series of questions, “Can you come in for the class that begins February 1? Does gender matter? Can you stay the entire duration of the class?”
My answers came rapid-fire, “Yes . . . no . . . yes.”
“All right then, we’ll see you on February 1.”