In December, I acquired a fifty-two pound ball of exuberance in the shape of a yellow lab named Emmyolou. Les than five months later, she is gone and probably will not return.
The short story is that she walked me into a poll at full speed and I fractured the bone graft in my nose. In consultation with the guide dog school, it was decided that she needed a work evaluation to make certain being a guide dog was her calling. My instincts tell me her destiny lies elsewhere.
In my experience, the bond between working dog and handler is distinct from that of pet and master. First, the canine has been bred to be smart, sensitive to people’s emotions, and think independently. They need a facility with language, a sense of duty, and a drive to be of assistance. They also provide help that pragmatically positively impacts the handler’s life. This means the connection possible is deeper, richer, and far more complex.
Initially, on some level I tried not to bond with Emmy, but when a friend pointed this out, I made a serious effort to connect with my dog. I thought the problems we were having as a working team might be caused by a lack of closeness. While that proved not to be the case, she wormed her way into my affections.
Multiple times a day, Emmy would come over an paw at me, the doggie equivalent of “Pay attention to me!” Sometimes she would instead work the cute angle by wiggling on her stomach across the floor to me. A tail wag was a full body experience with her entire body wriggling. She had a toy chicken that became her favorite and she would poke at me with it. “Play! Play! Play!” I’m pretty convinced she learned to give commentary by the length and frequency of squeaks from various toys. She even pursued any flies that entered our house. I’ve never seen a dog snap them out of the air. Once I let her up on the bed at night, she would walk around and around in circles as happy to step on me as the mattress. Circles were in fact her favorite walking pattern. If I dared sit on the floor, she would walk around and around me until I was done. If I danced to a good song on the radio, she would join in by leaping around me in, you guessed it, circles. This dog spent most of her day either saying “I want to play!”, “You love me, right?” or “You’re mine.”
I have never met a dog who did so much to connect with a person, had such a sense of playfulness, or engaged in physical antics as if she were the canine equivalent of Charlie Chaplin. Having her around was sometimes stressful because I never had enough attention to keep her satisfied, but always a source of laughter and joy. There are no words for what life was like with such a creature as my constant companion.
Then there was the guide dog aspect. Emmy had issues in this area, but still changed my life. Cane’s for me are exhausting in a way dogs are not. I could walk a mile with Emmy and be less exhausted and more relaxed than a 4 block walk with my cane. Activities became possible that I never considered before. The degree of independence I achieved was more than I thought possible and far more than I ever reached with my last dog. I became addicted to it without even knowing the process was occurring.
Now my exuberant companion is gone along with my addictive autonomy. In the time it takes for a bone to snap, my life has been turned inside out.
I have been through the ending of two long term romantic relationships that lasted several years. In both cases, I was upset in the cry your eyes out way of most people. This experience is almost worse. In fact, if Emmy had been able to engage in actual conversation, it would be worse. Unlike romantic heartache, there is no common wisdom about how to cope. Last summer when I had to put my retired guide dog to sleep, it was the last Hard Thing in a long string of insanity. I had no emotional energy left in my tank to feel anything, so I let time pass. Eventually, as I had known I would, I got past it.
This, however, is different. I feel like one of those wimpy paper shredders that can only chew up two sheets of paper at a time, but I am faced with five layers of cardstock in an endless roll that vanishes in the distance only because the human eye cannot see further. I’d love to deal with this, learn whatever I can, and move on. Instead I just sit with this event before me unable to get my mind around it. The part of me that usually copes with whatever life offers is either missing or broken. I literally have no idea what to do. None.