Friday, May 25, 2012

Pride Goes Before a Fall

Soon after Pride's arrival
I met Pride for the first time early in 2001. A handsome young golden retriever and perfectly named, he was well-groomed and impeccably trained, light gold, with beautiful leg feathers, and the kindest eyes that also held a twinkle of mischief.  Pride came through the door ahead of his owner, which isn’t usually a good thing but in this case was entirely appropriate. Trained by Paws With a Cause, and the beloved companion of Julie Trine he was doing his job as a service dog and leading the way. Julie had lived with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis for more than 10 years before partnering with Pride, who enabled her to maintain a great deal of independence for almost 9 more.

And what a partnership it was. Pride assisted Julie with her stability, making it possible for her to navigate much more safely and easily, but that wasn’t all. He also retrieved the phone, opened doors, and transported baskets of laundry. When I talked to her for permission to write this, she joked, “He did everything but fold it and put it away.” I think if Julie had asked, he would have given it his best shot.

As much as she loved and depended on him, he adored her. He happily paraded his skills every year for re-certification, and would show off at home for visitors. His mischievous side he saved for the vet clinic. We knew he knew all the usual dog manners, like sit and stay and come. But he would look at us when we asked him to do something and with a gentle wag of his beautiful tail, completely ignore us until he checked with Julie first.

Pride was recognized by the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association in 2002, winning the Michigan Service Dog of the Year Award on the strength of Julie’s essay and accompanying her to a special dinner in his honor in Lansing.

Two years ago this week, at the age of 11, Pride wasn’t his usual happy-dog self. He’d eaten his breakfast but, as is often the case with such a special bond, Julie knew something wasn’t right. When he came in for an exam he was depressed and running a fever. He’d developed a heart murmur and his abdomen was distended.  A trip to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Michigan State University for an ultrasound led to a diagnosis of splenic cancer.  

In dogs, cancer of the spleen is almost always due to a malignancy called hemangiosarcoma, and usually has metastasized to other areas of the body by the time of diagnosis.

Pride came home from the College of Veterinary Medicine and entered the veterinary equivalent of hospice care. We did our best to keep him comfortable with anti-inflammatory medication and monitored his appetite and attitude. He rallied for about 2 weeks, eating and regaining some of his strength. But splenic cancer in dogs is almost always a fatal diagnosis.  

         "Because of great love, one is courageous."
                                                        Lao Tzu

Honoring her relationship with her friend to the end, Julie
made Pride’s final appointment on a June afternoon.  Although age and his illness made him less steady on his feet than in his prime, Pride still positioned himself to support his favorite person in the world, and gratefully settled on the blanket beside her in a patch of shade. As I placed the i.v. and delivered the euthanasia solution, Julie and Pride shared a last hug. She softly told him, “Good bye.” And she heard him tell her, “Thank you Mom.”

Written in fond memory of  a fallen canine hero.

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