I got my seeing eye dog when I was seven. Growing up, my parents had both been adamant we weren’t allowed any pets. With five kids ranging from 13 years apart my parents said they had plenty to deal with already with my siblings and I. My sisters and I made every attempt to convince them otherwise. For about six months we “adopted” a large plushy German Sheppard belonging to my youngest sister. The five of us pretended it was a real animal; we set water and fake food out for it daily, we took turns dragging it around the neighborhood on “walks”, and we all set aside some of our allowance to demonstrate our parents wouldn’t have to finance a pet. Still, the answer remained no, we were most definitely not getting an animal. They even took a firm stance against fish.
I wasn’t born blind. When I was seven my mom and I got into a car accident, and among the many injuries sustained was the loss of my vision. In the aftermath of the accident, between counseling, tutoring, and physical therapy, my mom decided it was time to break her and my father’s boycott on animals and get me a seeing eye dog.
It’s rare for kids to get seeing eye dogs, since they are considerable work. However, my mom found an organization that did pair children with canines, and enrolled me in a camp to learn to work with a dog. When we arrived, they had several dogs pre-selected as a fit for my family and me. We did a meet and greet with each one, all of which seemed like great dogs. The one, however, that made the greatest impression on my mother and I was a large golden retriever, with equal amounts of spunk and discipline.
I’m definitely an animal lover, but it took me time to warm up to Scout. I hadn’t wanted a pet as a lifeline, I’d wanted one as a companion. Even so, he was an excellent dog from the get go. He was endlessly patient with me as I learned to work with him. When he was allowed to be a “normal dog” (remove the vest and they’re no longer a service animal, they’re simply a pet) he showed his true colors as a loveable goofball. He would play with me in the yard for hours, retrieving tennis balls or soccer ball, playing tug-of-war, attempting to get me to chase him by nudging me around with his nose. You couldn’t help fall in love with him.
Scout’s now 14, and has been declining pretty rapidly as of late. He’s on medication for his joints, but even so has significant difficulty getting around the way he used to. At night, when he lies next to my bed, I can hear him wheezing gently, having trouble breathing even while resting. He no longer has interest in playing with other dogs when I take him to the park, but rather prefers to rest under a tree in the shade. The vet assures me these are simply natural changes that accompany his age, and that he’s still living a happy life. He pointed I won’t enjoy the same activities when I’m in my 70’s, and that’s the adjustment Scout’s making now.
You always hear people talk about how much they love their animals, but you can’t really understand it until you have one yourself. Scout really is my best friend, in his own way. It’s hard for me to think about what it will be like without him one day. I know what’s important is to focus on the present, and the time I have left with him (the vet says he’s still perfectly healthy, and could easily live a few more years) but each night I worry he might not wake up the next morning with how labored his breathing is. I know this is a very somber and morbid idea to entertain regularly, but I feel maybe coming to terms with his mortality will make it easier when he does come to pass one day.
On a more positive, less depressing note, Scout’s given me some unforgettable memories throughout our time together. He’s taught me a lot about responsibility, trust, and patience. He helped me cope with what might end up being the most challenging experience of my lifetime. He makes me laugh each day with his ceaseless antics. Each night I fall asleep on my stomach, with my hand draped over the side of the bed, petting his soft fur. When I’m stressed, he’ll lie for hours at my feet while I study, occasionally licking my ankles with his tongue. The point is, no matter how much it may hurt to watch him age and decline, nothing could ever replace the love he’s filled my life with.