In the fall of 2008, Richard and I agreed to foster a puppy for Paws With a Cause service dog program. The agreement was, we would raise her for the first year, learn how to train her and give her back so she could be a service dog for someone with a specific type of physical or emotional need. If she didn’t fit into the program, she may go on to be another type of service dog: arson sniffer or DEA canine investigator. The next group of puppies, Labrador Retrievers, were to be released to foster homes in January 2009. We were going to be welcoming a female named Cricket.
We had to wrestle with the thought of falling in love with a puppy then being required to surrender it back at the end of a year. Richard and I both deeply bonded with pets all our lives. This was going to be tough, but a privilege to be part of providing a canine helper for someone living with a disability. We agreed it was worth the heartache to be part of the work they do.
My initial though was, “Well, she is a Lab. They are so “plain”. It will be easier to give her back than other types of dogs would be.” Clearly, I had never encountered a Lab before. There is nothing “plain” about Cricket.
When we went to pick her up, there was a group of us who were excited about meeting our temporary canine family members. The trainer pairing people with puppies mentioned there was one puppy who pouted and went to sit in the corner after she received her inoculations. Guess who we got? We were taking home the drama queen of the litter.
This little bundle of Labrador charm completely captivated Richard. We took her on agreeing he would have to be the primary care giver for her. I had no extra energy to deal with anything, let alone a puppy. We were constantly juggling the insanity of addiction.
The first night she was home, Richard slept with her, “breaking all the rules”. She had diarrhea all night. He let her sleep with him in the spare room. He had such a tender heart.
Initially, both of us took her to puppy training every week. After several weeks, it was just me. Richard was the one who just loved her. That is not what we agreed to, it was just how it played out. She was “Daddy’s Baby Girl”. She bonded with him. He bonded with her. I was the task master who had to provide the training and discipline necessary for her to become a service dog. This was not what I signed up for, yet knew it probably would turn out this way. Acceptance is key. We commited to this and follow through was important.
Cricket developed a hormonal imbalance after she was spayed. She would need to take medication to keep her from urinating in her sleep. This disqualified her from the “service dog” program. We received a phone call asking if we wanted to keep her as a pet. After having her for 10 months at that point, the decision was easy. We loved her. Richard was totally “taken” by her. She was now our pet.
Cricket tolerated me. I was the one who disciplined her. Richard was the center of her universe. She displayed all of her charm toward him. All of her affection was directed at him. Because of Richard’s physical disabilities, I had to be the one responsible for walking Cricket.
This dog is incapable of being calm on a walk. She pulls with the strength of Iron Man. If she is allowed to run freely, she eats every poisonous substance along the way. If she cannot run free, she acts as if she is being tortured. Walking her is not fun. She is a challenge every step of the way. She use to turn and look at me with contempt because she couldn’t get away from me. Acceptance, once again, is key.
Several years later when Richard was dying, she was by his side every moment. This purely loving creature was committed to being everything he needed. When he was at Trillium Woods, the hospice facility, she was completely beside herself. I would come home to let the dogs out and she was obviously looking for him. She could smell him on me yet couldn’t be with him. It was heartbreaking.
I took a pillow from home for Richard to rest on at Trillium Woods. One of the doctors suggested when I take that pillow home after Richard passed, I could let the dogs sniff the pillow. There is a theory about a scent of death that lingers on an object after one passes. Dogs can pick up on that scent and it helps them process the loss of someone they love. Smelling death allows them to release the hope a loved one will return.
After Richard passed, I brought the pillow home and put it on the mattress in the spare room. Both dogs gravitated toward the pillow, sniffed it and laid next to it. Much to my surprise, they both got up relatively soon, within minutes and went about their day. They knew he wasn’t coming back.
At that moment, Cricket started the process of bonding with me. She knew Richard was gone and I was all she had left. All her charms turned toward me. If she wasn’t as sweet as she is, I would feel resentful. As it is, Cricket is so purely loving, I just enjoy what she offers and remember how hard it must be for her to not have her “Daddy” around anymore. Today, she sleeps snuggled up to me all night long. We comfort each other.
There are moments, I sense she misses Richard. After all, she was Daddy’s baby girl. She looks at me with those deeply loving, brown eyes asking me to love her like he did. I can’t help but look past all of the years she “tolerated” me and embrace the gift she offers of pure love now. I am all she has. She is so innocent and dependent on me. How can I help but love her as her Daddy did?
When I look at her, I see Richard. I see the creature who loved him while he was making choices that were unlovable. She was the one who could love him during the years I had to pull back emotionally from him because of betrayal and deception. I see the canine companion who offered him comfort during the last year of his life when I couldn’t be with him.
Cricket is still hard to walk. I have tried every collar on the market to keep her safe from pulling. The difference now is when she turns to look at me, she has such love in her rascally eyes, not contempt. She works it, and it works.
Now, she is Mommy’s baby girl.
Thanks for stopping by.
Let’s make this a great year!