Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Losing a Service Dog

It's taken me a long time to get around to this post becuase of the sorrowful and fragile subject of it.

After three long months of pain and one very short month of living with a disagnosis of bone cancer in her scapula, on August 8th, 2007, we had to put our beloved service dog, Mohawkie, to sleep at the age of 11.

I would prefer to talk about her accomplishments than the pain of her loss, so lets highlight her fabulous life instead.

We had Mohawkie for 5 short years, she was a rescue from a friend who could no longer handle her separation anxiety. We already had much knowledge of Mohawkie's life, as I had helped with some of her basic training between the ages of 2 and 3, and had begun to work her into backcountry rescue and water rescue training when her owner and I parted ways.

She was a wonderfully bright dog, half Akita, half Newfoundland, and was always eager to learn new things and be outside. Because of the long work schedule her owner had, Mohawkie wasn't able to do much of either.

But when we took Mohawkie's care over in 2002, she had a new opportunity and a new life. We took her anxiety seriously, and made sure to never leave her alone until she got over the fear of it, which in truth only took about 18 months. But with her intelligence, previous training, and gentle patience of a Newf, she was nearly ready to become a service animal when we got her. And of course, this meant never being alone.

We trained her for new jobs, such as to help Craig transfer, to carry things for him in her saddle bags, to pull him in his chair. We also continued to work with her on basic training that had been loose, such as "come" and "stay." Within 5 months she had passed her AKC Canine Good Citizen test with a perfect score, and was accepted into a Delta Society Pet Partner's program for visiting the local hospital.

Within a year she was able to be alone, left at the bottom of the ski area to watch Craig's wheelchair while we skied, and left at home only very occasionally, while most of the time she was with Craig during his daily routine, being an assistance, warming the hearts of people around him, and educating people at expos and events for people with disabilities on what a good service dog could be.

She traveled with us, bore her duties extraordinarily, provided soft fur for sick people and little kids, and most of all, loved us unconditionally.

She was truly the world's greatest service dog, and still, months later, we miss her dearly. I know we'll miss her for a long long time, and for fear of never quite being able to replace our "master healer" as she was often called, we've decided against getting another service dog. People still ask us where she is, and we can't quite bear to tell them.

Rest in peace Bear...