CLEO AND ME – our first days together in 1998 and our last day together 2001
My Cleo dog came to live with me in 1998. She was described to me as a back-yard Poodle, two and a half years old, apricot in colour and weighed eleven pounds. Her tail had not been clipped and was long and fluffy. They said, “She is quite beautiful”. She’d been given to them by a working couple who lived in Parksville. The working couple would tether Angel on their clothes line when they went to work. The couple had heard about Pacific Assistance Dog Society from a friend and thought Angel (her name at the time but was later changed by P.A.D.S. to Cleo). Cleo tested to be intelligent and fearless, both characteristics needed to be trained as a working dog.
I’d been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour (acoustic neuroma) in 1981 and I had undergone a fifteen-and-a-half-hour micro surgery. The tumour was successfully removed but I was left with some residual effects: I was deaf in my left ear; I had a badly bruised facial nerve and a damaged vestibular nerve. I’d often feel tippy when I walked; I had short term memory loss and couldn’t sequence information the way I did before the surgery; my left eye was a little wonky and my smile was crocked, I was embarrassed when food would pop out of my mouth because of the weak muscles in my mouth; I could hear sound but it was flat and I had no idea what direction it was coming from, word discrimination was blurred. The two years after my surgery were long and difficult for both me and our family, in fact it was traumatic. My more than twenty-year marriage ended. I was determined to make the best possible recovery; I returned to college to upgrade my education so I could re-enter the work force after being an at-home mum for the past twenty-two years.
An employment counsellor, Leslie, from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Association who was profoundly deaf was working with me to help me re-enter the work place. In one of our sessions she told me about her professionally trained hearing dog and as she talked about her dog I felt an overwhelming desire to have one too. She said they were very expensive. I didn’t have much money but I did have a house and I said, “I will sell my house if I have to”. Leslie contacted P.A.D.S. and had them send me an application form. I was told there would be a very long wait but to my surprise within a few months I got a phone call from them saying they had a dog for me. They told me her ten-month training had been sponsored and paid for by a party who lived in North Vancouver and the only cost to me would be for her kennel, leash and her insignia P.A.D.S. Jacket. Thankfully, I was then full-time employed as an Early Childhood Educator Arrangements were made for me to be off work for a week so the trainer from P.A.D.S. could come and train ME to work with the dog.
I watched from my dining room window as the trainer and Cleo walked down our long driveway. I couldn’t believe my eyes…she was beautiful. As I watched her walking down the driveway with proud, quick, assured steps, her long tail swooped up over her back I wondered how she could be so beautiful and smart at the same time. The trainer introduced us and said she would leave us to get acquainted with one another and would return in the morning for a boot-camp day of hard work. Upon return she said, “Cleo looks different…so relaxed and happy, I think she has really bonded with you.”
When the boot camp training week was over I asked Terry a very difficult question. I said, “I cannot imagine how I will deal with her death when that happens?” She said, “You will deal with that when it happens”. It was difficult. When it happened I went to bed and covered my head for days.
Cleo was my best friend, helper and restorer of life for twelve loving years. December 26, 2001 my good friend, Gaye picked us up and drove us to the Vet and then to the doggy crematorium. I had Cleo wrapped in her favourite blanket. My son Bruce brought the blanket back for me as a gift from Mexico and Cleo would, when she could, would snuggle into it. When the needle went into her leg I held her on her back close to my heart. She didn’t flinch. We looked deep into each other eyes. Her eyes told me she trusted me and my eyes told her I loved her. I will always miss her, and remember her in gratitude and love.