Angels with Fur

      I applied to Pacific Assistance Dogs for another dog.  It took three years of waiting.  Probably a good thing. It gave me time to accept reality.  After three years of waiting, I’d obsess and think, I’m not going to be placed with a dog.  I got the call in June.  They had a dog for placement and would I like to meet her? I wrote in my journal:

– July 26, 2018 – Yesterday I was weepy all day long in regard to getting a dog.  I watched a video about hearing dogs who live with children.  I cried lots as I watched and related – so sad – kids with hearing loss, one had a brain tumor.  They were both afraid of the night because of the sounds in the dark.  I was reminded of how when I first lost my hearing and had no direction of sound, I too was afraid in the night.  Our eyes work double time.  Now the apartment I live in has a light from the hallway that comes under my door and the parking lot outside my bedroom window has a large solar light that comes on at night and lights-up the parking lot.  The kids in the video were so tired but when they had a hearing dog they relaxed. I was reminded of my fatigue, anxiety and why. I cried and I cried as I watched the video.

This transition is really hard for me.  It has been seventeen years since Cleo died.  I have a picture of her and I sitting on my buffet in my dining room.  I have her ashes in a planter on my deck. When I first got her I asked the trainer, “If I have this dog with me 24/7 and she is my ear, what will I do when I lose her?”  “You will deal with that when the time comes.”  It wasn’t easy when that time came.  I went to bed and covered my head for two weeks.

 It took me fourteen years to apply for another hearing dog.  It has taken three-and-a-half years from when I applied to when I got the call., Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. a call from PADS.  It was Ron, “I have a dog ready for placement she is a small Lab…would you like to meet her…?”  I went over to PADS in Burnaby Thursday, July 5, 2018 and met Elphie.

I was told when I applied, I would get a small hypoallergenic dog something like Cleo.  I had expressed an interest in a Golden Retriever that is part of their breeding program but was told that dog would be too big for me and could knock me over.  I was expecting maybe a small Havanese or Poodle mix.  Elphie is a 50-pound dog. She has a beautiful auburn double coat of hair and soft brown eyes.  She has been trained to use a gentle nose bump alert instead of a stronger paw alert.  Ron asked, “What do you think?”  I responded, “She’s a red head like my grand- daughter.  I want her.”  I had another two short bonding visits with her.   Elphie and I became a team Sept. 10, 2018. 

      I always said Cleo and I were a match made in heaven.  We connected overnight.  I never once had to give Cleo a correction.  She worked and loved to work. Elphie has been another story. My daughter said when I complained about something Elphie had done.  “Yes, Mum you and Cleo were a match made in heaven but heaven made this match”.  I wasn’t sure? 

     The first day home after Elphie was placed with me and we went to the dog park.  I was totally naive looking forward to putting her in a sit and removing her jacket and letting her release to play.  None of that happened.  As soon as she saw the dogs playing, she yanked herself out of my hand and ran to the dogs in the center of the field dragging her leash behind and with her working jacket still on.  I wondered if she had dislocated my left shoulder.  She had not, but I had a raging head ache for two days because she jerked my neck extremely hard when she pulled the leash out of my hand. That was my first sudden and surprising awakening with her.  On our first walk it was apparent we could not walk by people OR DOGS without her needing a leash correction. She wanted to visit them.

      A walk in the forest with Elphie.  As we walked up hills, she was so excited she kept pulling on her leash.  I thought I might trip and fall with her tugs so I released her and let her go.  Big mistake.  She took off like lightening.  I hadn’t taken her working dog insignia jacket off.  I kept calling her.  Nothing.  Finally, she came running back toward me like the speed of light.  Who is this??  She was unrecognizable.  Green algae from head to tail.  I soon discovered a pond a little further into the forest. It was filled with green algae so much so you couldn’t see any water.  Back home.  I hosed her off. I let her swim in the ocean, I took her to the pet store and bathed her. I washed her again but the algae got to her.  She started scratching.  Her tummy got all red with a rash.   A trip to the vet.  I was scared.  The news was announcing how dogs were dying after a jump into poisonous algae.  Three hundred dollars later.  Elphie was alive and well.

     The saga went on and on with Elphie.  Not to mention that when I told my land lords, I was getting a service dog they were of the persuasion they did not have to abide by the laws of the BC Guide Dog and Service Dog Legislation.  They continually challenged my every move, telling me I had to use the car park exit and entrance and could not use the front door or be in any common part of the building with my dog. I tried to appease them but their abuse continued and escalated until I finally called the Solicitor General Dept. and reported their behavior.  My landlords received a visit from an officer. The harassment stopped.  However, they look the other way when they see Elphie and I approaching and they refuse to speak to me.

     Who knew two years after Elphie was placed with me, we would have a world pandemic?  Who knew with COVID-19 I would have to self-isolate?  Who knew two years later I’d have to give up line-dancing, working out at the gym, volunteering at a senior home and give up doing my shifts at the hospital gift shop?  Who knew?  Who knew the lonely days and nights would be spent alone with only Elphie?

      Elphie has grown wings in the last few months. No more does she pull out of my arms and run away or insist on visiting other dogs.  She follows me from room to room. She is constantly by my side.  She wakes me to the alarm when it goes off at six a.m.  I get up and feed her and then I crawl back under the warm blankets.  When she finishes her breakfast, she comes to my bedroom door and sits there until I invite her up on the bed with me.  She takes a running leap, up and over me to my other side.  Every time she does the leap up and over, I have to laugh out loud.  She smiles and wiggles and I laugh again. She spoons with me and we snooze and cuddle for another hour.

     Elphie knows the words, “night, night”. When she hears me say that she’ll head for our bedroom.   I say, “Time to clean your teeth” and she will sit at the kitchen sink and let me clean her teeth.  She makes me laugh.  When she does her running leap from my bedroom door, up and over my body and lands beside me and sneezes in my face, I giggle and she wiggles. Oh, I almost forgot – she is a working dog and she alerts me to the smoke alarm, the telephone, the door-bell and the alarm clock.  Who is Elphie?  She is patience, laughter and my companion.

          Professionally trained service dogs are more than pets. The bond is more than attachment. The relationship becomes a oneness.  A team. I watched W5 the other night and the Toronto Canine Unit of the police department was interviewed.  Constable Derek when asked who his police dog Major was to him?  He said, “He’s a dog but not a dog.  He is my friend and my partner”.  Dogs who are professionally trained help Vets with PTST live normal lives.  There are assistance dogs who are legs and arms for those in wheel chairs.  As Derek said, they are dogs but not a dog…”  When people would call Cleo a dog.  I would say, “don’t call her a dog, she isn’t a dog.” 

     Cleo was love.   Elphie is patience and laughter.   Patience, laughter and love all needed big time with COVID threatening our lives.  My daughter was right.  “Heaven made this match”. 

      Thank you, thank you, thank you to my Fur Angels.  As a friend said, “Dog is God spelled backwards.

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