Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tribute to a real Lady

Tonight is a sad anniversary. One year ago we went through the horrible ordeal of saying goodbye to our sweet, gentle companion of 16 years, Lady. She was an amazing dog, intelligent and totally dedicated to us.
When we took her home with us at 12 weeks in 1989, a shy little cocker spaniel/lab/border colllie mix, we had no idea that she would be such an integral part of our family. She spent many years as a therapy dog in local schools and hospitals and took her job most seriously. She slipped away from us slowly at first, gradually becoming deaf at around age 12. We next noticed some loss of mental acuity which the vet eventually diagnosed as an Alzheimer's-like condition called Cognitive Canine Disorder. Eventually her sight went and finally she became incontinent and lost the ability to support herself on her hind legs. We were forced to admit that the time had come to let her go.

The Cognitive Canine Disorder was the toughest to watch. It began with the observation that she seemed confused by activities that had normally been routine. Her weekly visits to the hospital began provoking a type of panic attack despite the fact that she had been in that routine for over eight years at that point. We were reluctantly forced to retire her from the program. The dementia escalated to the point where she couldn't tolerate any deviation from the familiar. She began exhibiting classic "Alzheimer" behavior, continuous pacing at dusk, spatial confusion (she would try to exit a doorway on the hinge side, forcing us to gently guide her to the other side of the door) and refusal to leave the house or yard.

Over the years she gave us so many wonderful memories.

* Her passion for tennis balls was legendary. She could smell them in the brush as we walked by. One famous long weekend on vacation by a set of public tennis courts, she recovered 32 tennis balls in three days simply by stopping at the courts, sniffing the air and heading straight for them.

* She perfected the position of goalie in an improvised version of hockey she played with my husband in the kitchen doorway using some of those tennis balls. Nothing got past her. After stopping the ball, she would place it on the floor in front of her, nudge it with her nose to roll it back to my husband. She was relentless, rolling it back to us over and over.

* Her pet therapy job added years to her life. Just the sight of my hospital volunteer smock would send her in a dash to the back door. Once on duty, she navigated the halls as if she owned the place, expecting each person she met to pay appropriate attention. She once dragged me by her leash so she could penetrate a group of doctors conducting a serious patient consult. She refused to leave until they noticed her and gave her attention. Her fan base was large and it was not unusual to hear "look, it's Lady from the hospital!" on our evening walks. She was so proud of her therapy work and especially loved working with the children at an area psychiatric hospital. A number of them overcame their fear of dogs because of her sweet, patient nature.

* She had a strong intolerance of being dressed up. Normally I didn't press the issue but around Christmas I couldn't resist. There is just something so endearing about reindeer antlers. The look says it all:

She was SO not impressed with the whole experience. It was such an indignity!

* Then there was the time that Meredith heard about a photo contest being offered by the Nickelodeon network. After donning her favorite outfit and a few pounds of her favorite jewelry it was time to pose with her best friend. Poor Lady couldn't fathom what the hell was going on:

We were so fortunate to have so many wonderful years with Lady, but that only made it so much harder to say goodbye last May. She had been part of Meredith's life from her earliest memories. Meredith had named her after her favorite Disney character at the time so, not surprisingly, she took her death very hard. Circumstances also required that we take action less than two weeks before Meredith could get home from her freshman year at school. It was heart-wrenching to hear the pain in her voice as she called home to say good-bye.

We all miss our sweet Lady. The intervening year has dulled the pain of her loss a little but her spirit is so much a fabric of our home. In the first few weeks after her death, I used to think I saw her in her favorite perch on the stair landing, watching over all of us. She gradually turned that job over to her successor, the wild and zany Isla. Those were large paws to replace and, in some ways, they never will. Rest peacefully, sweet Lady. We'll see you at the rainbow bridge.


1 comment:

townie girl said...

Lady sounds like a real sweetheart. I'm so sorry.

We have an English Cocker Spaniel who just turned 14. He's in pretty good health for his age, but there are definite signs.