Thank You Tahoe – The Life and Death of My Service Dog

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 My heart is torn as I reflect on the life and death of my service dog, Tahoe.  A devoted family member full of cheer, comfort and amusement, he was a gift from God and no words can fully express the deep bond we shared.

PICK-UP-PHONE

Tahoe picked up my phone…again and again

As  a service dog he helped me with important tasks like picking up cash, keys or my phone and  the countless objects I frequently dropped!   His face lit up and paws pitter-pattered across the wood floor any time he heard something fall. Laughter, silliness and joy flowed as we threw rubbery indestructible ‘Kong’ toys for what seemed like hours each day.  Linked together, literally 24 x 7, we became part of each other.  We knew we were meant to be together the moment we met seven years ago.  After pairing with other potential canine companions ready for a forever home and forever companion, the search for the unquestionable ‘perfect match’ was over on that cool March day at Canine Assistants Recipient Training Camp. Tahoe nuzzled against my thigh and gently jumped on my lap and although we barely knew each other, our hearts solidly linked.

HELLO

Saying hello. Moments after we met, we knew we were meant to be together.

After 13 years with Murray, my prior canine assistant,  I had no idea what was in store with Tahoe.

I didn’t know a creature could be so inherently sweet and outrageously affectionate, nor did I realize that not only would I need him, but he would need me and my husband desperately. He loved with passion and overtly needed safety and  acceptance.  He opened  his heart to everyone, but longed for our devoted, tight-knit family. Inspired by his transparent neediness and vulnerability, our hearts and our ministry grew.

LETS-GO

First time in my van.

The immeasurable love exuded by Tahoe melted any hard heart. Attractive eyes, smile and soft fur made adventures with him purposeful. People lit up and opened hearts to Tahoe with just a glimpse.  Often children and adults asked to pet and visit with him for stress relief and comradery.  Hyper-sensitive to emotions, he knew how to comfort. On the flip-side, he showed  his emotional needs openly.

Perhaps we fostered his insecurities, but I believe they were part of what made him so special. He reminded me a bit of the character Adrian on the television show Monk. He was afraid of balloons, crowds, loud noises, anything hanging from the ceiling, thunder, loud trucks, rocking chairs and crowded aisles in a clothing store.   The Golden Labrador retriever was afraid of swimming when we first got him! We taught him to swim. Of course he loved it once he learned.  Despite all his quirks and undoubtedly because of them we had an incredible full life with him!

MOUNTAINS

Tahoe loved travel to mountains of Colorado…

Bravely, he was happy to jump on a plane, go on long journeys in the van, ride the subway, stay in dozens of hotels, visit many camps and classes full of kids. His affection buzzed  as a dozen toddlers simultaneously touched him.

Memories of fun times with Tahoe live in our hearts, in photos and videos. One of my favorite trips with Tahoe was to the wonderful dog park in Amelia Island. Occasionally he enjoyed a run with the other dogs but he wasn’t interested in them – he wanted to play with us and his floating Kong in the doggie swimming pool.

RAIN-OR-SHINE

A rainy downpour didn’t phase us as we admired Roosevelt and his pup in Washington DC.

I hate that his life had to end in a hospital room. There was beeping, barking and whining during his hospital stay.  He tolerated it like a champ. He felt so bad it broke our hearts. Every time we left him to let the caregivers tend to him we would return to a sad story of decline. For three days each time we gathered hopes we were stunned with nothing but negative news.

Tahoe laid quietly on the floor or on the gurney and seemed so peaceful – if you didn’t see his IV or his tired face his illness was invisible…he looked sleepy. Three days of medications and care led to decline after decline. One of the saddest,  bittersweet moments was when we got close to his face.  He made the effort to give us a peculiar kiss. We always laughed about his rough ‘cat-like’ tongue that could take skin off, but in the hospital, his kisses were soft and velvety, much like that of our former dogs, but not at all like our Tahoe. The muscles in his body from his paws to his tongue were declining each day.  Myasthenia Gravis ravaged his body with persistent progression.  This autoimmune disease caused his nerves and muscles to lose connectivity and showed no mercy other than it’s aggressive, short-lived suffering.

Late Sunday night, a week after symptoms started and three days after our hospital admission, we realized we did not want him to suffer any longer when were asked to leave while they cleaned him and he needed resuscitation as he choked during the process. We wished we had been there to comfort him.  He was a trooper, never whiny, just obviously sad and confused.  He knew something was very wrong.

GOODBYE-B

Goodbye Tahoe – minister, friend, companion, helper, ambassador, comedian, family, playmate, comforter. We love you.

We spent our last hours together cuddling and talking to him and loving on him and telling him how uniquely special he was to us. We cried and cried some more – he even licked our tears with his soft tongue.  Then we said our final goodbyes.  He was so peaceful. He looked so perfect, innocent and loving.

GOODBYE-M

‘If you feel like giving me a lifetime of devotion – I second that emotion.’ Thank you Jesus, for such a faithful and kind friend.

We are forever thankful for seven wonderful years with Tahoe.  It’s been over three months since he died and as we prepare for a new young service dog full of life and energy, we continue to grieve in the most healthy ways we know.  Nervous and excited we anticipate a new family member.
No pup will ever replace our precious Tahoe and will certainly have big paws to fill, but we have hearts full of love to share with a new forever furry friend.
We love and honor our Tahoe.  Our heart aches in his absence. Shortly, our home will hear the pitter-patter of paws again. I think we’re ready… I hope we’re ready.

 

6 thoughts on “Thank You Tahoe – The Life and Death of My Service Dog

  1. thank you!family wisdom and faith very happy to know you.i’m frenchspeaker is better to speak with you in skype .speak french? speak germany.

  2. I lost my seizure response pup on Monday. Ive never felt so broken. I can’t eat, sleep, function… I don’t know how to get through this. I can’t imagine wanting another service dog let alone actually getting one. I’ve lost pets before, but he was my first service dog. I was sad over other pets but this is so different and I just don’t know what to do. Any words of wisdom? Thank you in advance for your time.

    • I’m putting my 7 year old service dog down tomorrow. My heart is so heavy. Stomach cancer out of nowhere. I also just put down my smaller dog two weeks ago. Biscuit has done so much for me. Never leaving my side. Getting help when I’m sick. Saving my life. He’s been a joy and best friend. I’m so lost.

  3. They are such a blessing! Just lost my beautiful dog Bruno yesterday. He was not a trained service dog, but he was my therapy animal through some really difficult times. I am so grateful and blessed to have known the love of such an awesome animal! Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. I just had to put down my PTSD service dog I feel like there is a hole in my soul that will never be filled. He was my very best friend. He saved my life many times when I was willing to throw it away. I would look at him and say to myself..No. Gunner needs me. He counts on me. He is my battle-buddy and I can’t just desert him. He would never leave me alone if he had a choice. He would never think of leaving me just to make his mental anguish go away. He saved me from many suicidal thoughts. Right now it’s been a week since I had to put him down. I stayed until then end and then about a hour after he was gone I was still holding him sobbing uncontrollably. I cry every day often many times a day. I try to remember the good times but his suffering and death are always what comes to my mind. I feel like I don’t ever want to love anything again. I’ve been pushing everyone incliding my wife away and all the walls Gunner helped break down in my heart feel rebuilt, reinforced, harder than before. I feel like all the progress I have made over the years is gone. I’m having night terrors and flashbacks again with regularity. I just feel lost without him and I don’t feel like I ever want to be found. I don’t feel anything but the loss of my friend. People who don’t rely on a service animal really only have the smallest idea of the bond that is built between handler and canine. It surpasses any love I have ever known or felt before. My wonderful wife is trying to help but I don’t think there is help for this. Stick it out trooper, suck it up, we can do this…That’s what Gunner would have helped me do but I dont think I am strong enough alone. My heart shreds to tiny pieces everyday and at every thought of my very best friend. I have never missed anything so bad. I don’t even think I was this badly depressed when my father passed which in itself disturbs me. I feel like life is just done. My holiday season is now a season of mourning. My Christmastime forevermore a reminder of the loss of Gunner. I hope everyone who goes through this remains OK. I don’t have any great hopes for myself but just know that you are not the only one whose soul is in pain and torment when you lose a furry lifesaving bundle of happiness and love.

    • Hang in there. My service pup died on dec. 27 and I too feel a sorrow and pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt. He was my very best friend, the love and bond we shared was incomparable and I too know he would never ever ever choose to leave my side. What brings me comfort is knowing that- that even in death he is all around me, even in death he is keeping me strong.. sometimes I can still see him out of the corner or my eye or hear a familiar sound and I smile. I still whistle for him and talk to him because I know his energy is with me and it comforts me- today is 2 weeks and while the pain has not stopped the peace in my heart increases a tiny amount each day. Thinking of you as you move through this.

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