On July 9, 2015, I said goodbye to my beloved former service dog, the unique and wonderful Arthur, better known as Artie. He was 14 years old and had lost the ability to walk, couldn’t go to the bathroom properly, and despite medication, he was in pain. It was still a very difficult choice to make. I’ve lost a few dogs and cats over the years. It’s part of the deal you make when you decide to share your life with a being whose lifespan is so much shorter. We know how it will end, but we give our hearts to them anyway. This one was just more difficult, because all of my other pets had cancer. It was taking over their bodies and when their quality of life started to go downhill, there was nothing else to do. But ultimately for Artie, arthritis was the same. I did everything I could, and kept him going for a long time, but in the end I could see that he was in pain and didn’t want to be anymore.
Although I live very close to the vet’s office, I opted to have a vet come to the house, so that he could pass away in the comfort of home. It was the first time I’ve ever done that, and it was the right choice. I didn’t want to put him through the stress and pain of having to be carried or try to walk in pain into the office. I didn’t want to have to wait in the lobby, or be surrounded by happy people whose animals just need a routine checkup. The vet who came to do the procedure was kind and compassionate. She and her vet tech assistant cried along with me, and hugged me afterwards. Everything was handled with such love and respect.
It’s been very hard to lose him. He was such an important part of my life for so long. When I got him, I was looking for a service dog candidate, and fostering rescue dogs until I found one that seemed right for the job. I saw Artie posted on Petfinder; he was in a very high kill shelter in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was living in LA at the time. I arranged for a wonderful rescuer in Vegas to drive him halfway, and then my best friends Paul and Christine picked him up from her in Barstow. He came home to me on Halloween, 2001, when he was about eight months old. It was a dark and sad time in the world; 9/11 had just happened, and I needed some joy in my life. I adored him from the moment I saw him, and knew I’d be his forever home.
Artie was my first attempt at training my own service dog. I only sort of knew what I was doing. I’d had two dogs from one of the major service dog programs, but disliked their training methods, and wanted to have more choice and flexibility. I wanted to train my dog in the skills that I needed, and rescue a dog from the shelter if possible. I had begun to learn about clicker training, a wonderful and humane method of teaching dogs to do just about any task. I was determined that my dog would be positively trained, with food rewards and toys, not choke chains, prong collars, or shock collars. That is a rule that I still live by today.
From the beginning, Artie showed a great capacity to learn. He was very intelligent, and picked up new skills quickly. However, it quickly became clear that his early living environment had not been the best. He was never properly socialized with other dogs, or taken out in public settings to get used to sounds, bicycles, etc. I was able to teach him everything I would ever need him to do for me, but he never learned to like other dogs. He was always hostile to them at first meeting, especially large or unneutered males. He was afraid of certain sounds, such as the motor on refrigerated cases in the grocery store.
After about three years of working with Artie, I stopped using him as a service dog in public, except for certain limited situations where I knew he would be comfortable. One of those was my graduate school internship, a center for people with cancer. I helped facilitate support groups, and the clients and family members loved his comforting presence. He could sense when someone was hurting or afraid, and would go to them. I’m glad that he found and chose the kind of work he loved, and was able to have those experiences.
He never stopped loving training and wanting to learn. Even a few months ago, if I would get treats out, he would start trying to do his signature tricks, spinning in a circle and bowing. Although his body wouldn’t let him complete them, he tried his best, and of course got a click and treat for the effort. He even tried to go into the agility tunnel while I was training Aria.
I wondered about his breed his whole life. I thought springer spaniel, Irish setter, maybe golden retriever. Everybody had a different guess. He was so unique, I even considered having him cloned, to see whether a properly socialized clone would’ve made the ultimate service dog. Even if I’d had 50 grand, I’m glad I didn’t wander into Orphan Black territory. Instead, about a year ago, I got one of those DNA test kits and finally found out his mix for sure. He was a springer spaniel, Labrador, and chow mix. It all made sense. He had the brains of the Springer, the loving nature of the Labrador, and with other dogs, he had the short fuse of the chow.
I can’t help but wonder if he would still be alive today if it hadn’t been for the robbery. The four day trip in the car was painful for him. There wasn’t much room for any of the dogs, the roads were bumpy, and he wouldn’t even lie on a blanket. Moving from a warm, dry climate to a cold and snowy place caused him to decline dramatically over the last six months. Sometimes I wonder if I should have let him go sooner, but then I would have known for sure that on top of everything else, the scumbags essentially killed my dog. All I can really do is accept that I made the best decision for his life as it was here and now.
I’m not a strongly religious person. I certainly don’t subscribe to any form of religion that is full of hate, judgments, or strict rules. I believe that God is love, and love is God. If there’s a rainbow bridge up there, that’s where I would like to spend eternity – with my dogs, others who are waiting for their person, and those who died sad and alone in a shelter or on the street because they didn’t have a person who loved them. I always get another animal shortly after one of mine passes away, which may be hard for some people to understand, but it’s my calling. I feel that I was put on this earth to love and care for animals, and there are so many in need. The best way that I can honor the life of one I loved is to save another. When I return from my trip to NYC, that’s exactly what I plan to do.
Goodbye, my friend. I miss you. I hope you’re rolling in the grass under a beautiful rainbow.
You can find out your favorite mystery mutt’s mix with a DNA kit! Here’s the info: