Over the last 2 decades I have come into contact with many people and their dogs
and sometimes there is a lot more going on than just dog training. I am grateful for these moments and always feel like I walk away from them enriched and having learned more than I ever could have taught.
I have changed the names of the owners and the dog in this story to protect their anonymity.
I was called by Jane and Mike to help them with their Terrier pup, Cassius back in 2001. Cassius their pup was a typical terrier - feisty, full of beans. They loved him but it was clear that they needed to learn how to handle him so everyone involved cvould have a better quality of life. During our initial meeting I was made aware that Mike had some very serious health issues - we didnt go into details but it was apparent that whatever was going on was grave. To give you an idea of how serious - Mike was a young man - but there was lots of medical equipment in the house and he could only go on very brief walks. Our weekly lessons went well and over the course of several weeks we trained Cassius and were all pleased witht he progress he made - Mike and Jane commenting on how much easier he was to live with both in the hosue and out on walks when we were done.
Over to a decade passed and then I heard from Mike and Jane.
They were going on a long trip and could they possibly leave the now senior Casius with me @ my kennel?
Of course - I would be thrilled to have him and to catch up with the owners on how they are doing say hello.
The truth is I have a huge soft spot for old dogs and tend to spoil them - they have put in their time being disciplined and mannered. The rules can be bent a little for them.
Caring for older dogs
The day to drop off Cassius at the kennel arrives and I was prepared for the first part fo the speech:“Nick… Cassius is old. Very old and he is now blind and deaf. We know that he doesnt have much time left and if anythng should happen while we are gone - we want you to know that we are prepared for it and that you should do whatever you think is best for Cassius.”
This is alsways uncomfortable to discuss but it doers need to be talked about beforehand and I appreciated the way they approached things. I reassured them that I would treat him the way I would treat my own dog and keep them posted on how he was doing.
Man’s best friend
This is the part that just floored me and I will never forget the feeling I had, the lump in my throat as I tried my best to pretend to appear stoic.
With tears in his eyes Mike said to me:“I was never suposed to outlive this dog.”
I’ll never forget the emotion in his voice and the look in his eyes at that moment. We all teared up in that moment.
This dog was his companion through what was likely the toughest time in his life.
The dog was also symbolic of Mike’s struggle with his illness and eventual triumph back to health. Now the tide had changed and here was Cassius later in life deaf and blind - in good spirits mind you and Mike is now realizing that his life trajectory has greatly changed from when he and Cassius first began their journey together. That dog symbolized all his fears, his hopes, his darkest moments and his vicotry to a new life.
It was so bitterweet.
He had a hard time leaving his friend behind with me that day. I have seen many an owner get emotional when leaving their dog behind for training or just kenneling but this was more than that and we all knew it. Mike and Jane returned from their trip - picked Cassius up and went home together.
Saying goodbye to an old, faithful friend
They emailed me several months later to tell me that Cassius had passed away and to thank me for helping them rasie him and for taking care of him in his old age.
Truth is I got much more out of it than any of them and thanked them in return for having been part of the journey.