Grief takes many forms. There is sorrow, longing, anger, and numbness. Yet, there is also reminiscing. Reflecting on the good, bad, and funny times.
With Gadget, most of my favorite memories are the times that are hilarious now, but were far from funny at the time.
When Gadget was most challenging, I often thought, “Yes, someday, I’ll look back on this and laugh. But for now, I’ll just whimper. Or cry.”
I admit, though, even in the midst of pain or exhaustion, frustration or exasperation, my inner voice whispered, “Heidi is going to love to hear this one!” Or, “I bet I can use this for a humor column.” Or, “Boy, did I make a fool of myself today!”
It was really impossible to stay angry at my boy when he ran as if he might take off and fly from joy, his wildly flopping ears adding to that impression. He loved me with the same abandon as he ran: he once rolled onto his back in my lap, threw back his head to lick my face, and broke my nose with the top of his hard skull. He might paw me in deference and enthusiasm and leave deep, bloody scratches on my legs.
Of course, this was when he was young and untutored, before he became the magnificent helper who I came to rely on so much. Before I took much of his help for granted.
Sick Humor Rides — and Crashes — Again
Since I have referred to Gadget as my muse at the end of each After Gadget post, I feel it’s time to give him his due as the muse he used to be when I wrote a monthly column called “Sick Humor.” Gadget starred in a few of my stories about the funny side of life with chronic illness.
Gadget is gone. I haven’t written a column in years. But my new puppy will be here in three weeks — wildness and unpredictability arriving with him. I think it’s a good time to remember that from distractable, unmannerly buffoons grow calm professionals.
In other words, Gadget, my perfect dog was not necessarily the “best” dog. In fact, in 1991, I called him . . .
“The Hindrance Dog”
This morning I got up at 6:30, which is generally as much adventure as I can handle in one day. I had to get the dogs to the vet. Jersey, my aging service dog, needed a growth on her lip removed. Gadget, the 70-pound puppy I recently adopted, was scheduled for neutering.
Jersey provides me greater mobility and independence. Three years ago, when I adopted and trained her, she was the perfect assistance dog. A mellow, acquiescent “floor potato” who was easy to train, she retrieves what I drop, steadies me when I walk, brings me my slippers, and is a quiet companion when I’m too sick to stir. However, as one friend put it, “Jersey acts like it’s her job but not her career.” Like most people, Jersey works but she’d rather be sleeping. Or eating. Especially eating.
When Jersey developed arthritis I knew it was time to find a trainee to succeed her. I wanted my new dog to master complicated skills that were beyond the phlegmatic Jersey. I sought a younger, more energetic pupil — the canine equivalent of a workaholic. A dog who would bound off to find help in a crisis, pull my wheelchair with gusto, and carry groceries like they were Faberge eggs. Enter Gadget — a urine-spritzing, slobber-spraying, fur-covered ball of muscle — who was about to kiss (or rather, lick) his manhood goodbye.
The dogs needed a brief walk because we didn’t have much time to get to the vet. I climbed aboard my mobility scooter and clipped Gadget’s lead to my handle bar. As usual, Gadget ran joyously ahead, Jersey and I following sedately behind. I planned to head back before we got too near my neighbors’ house, to prevent rousing their dogs and disturbing them with sunrise racket.
As we reached my neighbors’ barn, I opened my mouth to call my duo home, but before I could speak, my neighbors’ dogs started barking. Gadget spotted his best friend, a Lab mix named Shadow, and lunged to the end of his leash.
“Come on!” I hissed, still trying for stealth. “We’re not playing. We’re leaving.” I could hear Lilin calling from her house. I wasn’t sure if she was calling me, Sharon, or her dog, Shadow.
“Its Sharon,” I yelled, so she wouldn’t think I was an intruder, sneaking in at dawn’s early light. “Sorry!” I bellowed, as an afterthought, preparing to head home.
“In dog training,” the books say, “timing is everything.” This is true. Today Gadget gave me a lesson in timing as swift and sure as if I’d been wearing a choke chain.
As my scooter reached the halfway point in its arc toward home — perpendicular to my gasping service-dog-in-training — Gadget bolted, pulling my scooter over on top of me. Relying on the quick thinking and steady nerves that have made me the skilled dog-handler I am today, I immediately took charge of the situation.
“Aieeeee!” I screamed, as I slammed into the hard-packed earth.
“Ow!” I clarified, as 200 pounds of metal and plastic landed on me.
Then I tried to get up. Unfortunately, my right foot was pinned under the scooter, which was now an immobility vehicle. I looked at the dogs to see how they were coping with this sudden, troubling turn of events.
Jersey lay contentedly in the grass about 30 feet away. Gadget continued to hurl himself to the end of his lead, oblivious that parts of the leash — as well as of me — were trapped under the scooter.
I assessed the situation and decided on a plan.
“Help!” I yelled, flailing in the dust. “Lilin?” I hoped my neighbor was making her way behind the barn to find the source of the ruckus. “Help! It’s Sharon!”
Then, both dogs, hearing my distress, continued as they were.
“Oh my God! Sharon!” Lilin rounded the corner, gasping, her hand covering her mouth.
“I’m taking the dogs to the vet,” I said inanely as I lay in the dirt. “That’s why I’m up so early.”
Seeing another human with me, Gadget trotted over, waggled at the two of us, then went back to desperately trying to get to Shadow.
Lilin is not a big woman, but bless her, she is strong. She lifted the scooter off my foot and helped me tip it back onto its wheels. Scratched and grimy, the right side of my overalls hanging broken, I had to keep reassuring her I was okay.
I really was, too. No injuries, just scrapes and bruises — especially to my ego. After all, the reasons I’d acquired a scooter and a service dog were to become less needy of other people’s help. This was not how I’d envisioned it coming together.
Nonetheless, Lilin and I untangled the dogs and made our ways home, Gadget straining the whole time.
I have faith that Gadget will make an excellent assistance dog, once he is trained to get help in a crisis as opposed to causing the crisis in the first place. For the time being, however, I have changed his rank from “assistance-dog-in-training” to “hindrance dog.”
-Sharon and the muse of Gadget (who truly earned the title of Service Dog with every passing year)
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