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When our kids were little, they were terrified of dogs. I remember visiting my parents in Dallas, TX one time, and my parents’ golden mix, Amber, had to be quarantined to her crate most of the time we were there, because our daughter, Hannah, was absolutely sure Amber was going to bite her head off. Amber might give her a good lick, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Whenever we visited someone who had a dog, our kids would crawl up our legs into our protective arms to make sure they were safe from the crazy four-legged creatures who were wagging their tails at them.
My wife and I were determined to do something about this phobia. After all, our kids couldn’t live in our protective arms forever. They were growing quickly, and my arms wouldn’t hold them forever. Also, dogs can smell fear. Many times a dog will go after people who are afraid of them. Our kids had to learn how to stand up to the furry four-legged beasts that would cross their paths in the future.
So my wife and I signed up to foster a Seeing Eye puppy. A few weeks after signing up, we received a phone call indicating there was a 8 week old black Labrador puppy waiting just for us. We said yes, and we soon opened our home and our hearts to a square-headed black fur-ball named Iso.
When Iso joined our family, it didn’t take long for our kids to get over their fear of dogs. Soon they were playing with Iso and commanding him not to chew on the furniture, the walls, and their toys.
Iso grew and grew, and our hearts grew fond of the dog despite his early destructive forces. He chewed the paint right off our metal hot water baseboard radiators. He chewed a hole or two in our kitchen cabinets. And he kept us up many nights unhappy that he was chained to our bed. (Seeing Eye puppies are taught to stay close to their “person” at all times, and the training begins with the puppy raisers.)
Iso went with us everywhere. He visited the mall with us. He went camping, and he even went fishing. Actually, we caught him once. This was a terrifying experience for all of us. Somehow his tongue collided with a fishing hook. The squeal he let out was unforgettable. Thankfully, a real fisherman came along with his fishing tools, and we were able to pull the hook out of his tongue.
My wife and I often questioned whether or not he would make it as a Seeing Eye guide dog.
When he was a year and a half, we received a call from the Seeing Eye (in Morristown, NJ). They were ready for Iso, and they were confident that Iso was ready for his official training to become a guide dog. With many tears, we released Iso back to the Seeing Eye where he was matched with a trainer who worked with him for 9 months to prepare his for his purpose – to guide a blind person.
Our family visited the Seeing Eye for Iso’s Town Walk – his final exam. His performance was amazing as he guided his blindfolded trainer through the streets of Morristown. We were sure we would receive word that Iso was matched with a blind person. We waited, and we waited.
While we waited, we moved into a brand new house. Gone were the chew marks that reminded us of our puppy friend.
Shortly after our move, we received a phone call from the Seeing Eye. Due to a large crop of puppies, the Seeing Eye was being more selective, and Iso was being dropped out of the program due to his extreme friendliness. As a puppy raiser, we had the first opportunity to take him back to become our Forever Friend.
I was not so sure this was a good idea. After all, we had just moved into a brand new house, and I was not thrilled about the possibility of having him back in the house where I was sure he would cause havoc. I was not the only one in the family, and I was outvoted three to one.
I made the journey up to Morristown to pick him up. On the way home, we established some ground rules.
When I walked him through the door at our new house, he was quickly embraced and welcomed back into the family.
And honestly despite my initial apprehension, I soon let him into my heart as well.
Iso quickly adjusted to his new digs.
He chased the neighbors cat up a tree one time. I remember chuckling inside as we leaned a ladder up against the tree to rescue the cat. “This dog is crazy!”
One time, I woke up early one morning to find that he had eaten the braided rug that welcomed guests into our front door. This was not a happy moment. It took a few days, but Iso eventually passed the carpet. It’s a little gross but the carpet came out his rear just the same way it went into his mouth. Like I said before, “This dog is crazy!”
We liked having Iso around the house. He always provided the initial rinse of our dishes while I was putting them in the dishwasher. He greeted us with his tail wagging whenever we returned home after trip to church, the grocery store, work, or anywhere else. He was always glad to see us. And he was especially always happy when it was time to eat. One cup of food in the morning, and one cup of food at dinner time. We really didn’t have to have a clock. Iso knew when it was time to eat.
When he was 9 years old, I thought we were going to lose him. I came home from work one night to find out that he had eaten one of my dress shirts I wore to the office. What in the world would make a dress shirt appetizing? I’ll never know. We waited a few days to see if he would pass it, but we soon discovered that Iso was not feeling well. In fact, he seemed to be quite ill. When Leanne took him to the vet, the vet quickly ran an X-ray and discovered a football-sized lump of fabric and other material lodged in his stomach. The vet explained that she had to perform emergency surgery before Iso died. We weren’t given the option of putting him to sleep, and before we knew it, Iso was wearing the cone of shame and our bank account was $3,000 smaller.
Labs are crazy dogs, but they are also loyal and true. Iso loved to be with us when we were home – especially when we were eating popcorn. He hovered around us to make sure we threw several pieces of popcorn his way.
He had a few visits to the vet for various intestinal issues. With a few pills, a bland diet, and some time, he always seemed to bounce back.
The last few years, he became more sedentary. He slept way more than he was awake. He also seemed to be growing some cysts and fatty non-cancerous growths and tumors. The vet didn’t seem to worried about these. As the days and years went on, he slowed down even more. He took his time getting up and lying down. And his hearing seemed to diminish too. But Iso always responded to the word “Treat”. He loved his Milkbones.
Friday afternoon while I was out in the garden and in the shed, Iso seemed to have some type of seizure or stroke, and he couldn’t move or stand without assistance. Our family had some big decisions to make, and the main decision seemed obvious. It wasn’t fair to let Iso suffer any more. He couldn’t stand. He wasn’t interested in eating. His head even moved to his right as he tried to find his equilibrium.
After much thought and discussion, we decided it was Iso’s time. Isaac retreated to his room to let out his emotions. Hannah seemed to be rather understanding and non-emotional about this situation. And Leanne and I struggled to say our goodbyes.
I loaded Iso in the family car, and we journeyed to the 24-hour animal hospital (HOPE) in Malvern, PA. We knew what we had to do, but we know it was going to be hard. The people at HOPE were amazing. They gave us time to be with Iso, and they explained what would happen when they injected him with the chemicals that would end his life.
Iso wouldn’t let the doctor get to his arm where the catheter had been placed, so I had to hold his head while the vet injected the potions. Tears rolled down my face. Leanne and even Hannah were crying, too. (Isaac stayed at home to avoid the trauma of the whole situation.) Iso peacefully left us. After a few minutes with him, we left the hospital in silence.
It’s so hard to say goodbye to those who attach themselves to your heart.
That was Friday.
Today is Tuesday.
We miss Iso. We miss him when we arrive at home to a quiet house. We miss him when we wake up in the morning. And we miss him when we put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Our pets become part of our lives. They can provide some incredible challenges, and they can provide amazing companionship.
Someone on Sunday commented that Iso would be in doggy heaven. I don’t really know if that’s true or not. What I know is that our lives were greatly impacted by the black Labrador who invaded our house over 13 years ago. We will remember him with a smile and perhaps some more tears. We are thankful for the opportunity to have had this furry friend in our family.
And if you are wondering, our kids aren’t afraid of dogs anymore.