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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.