In January 2010, Tuscan’s limp was diagnosed as a nerve sheath tumor. He had begun limping several weeks earlier, and before long, his right front leg was of no use to him. He had to retire from the work he loved of being a guide dog, but otherwise, his spirit was unchanged. He was a happy, healthy three-legged dog.
I postponed getting a new guide – clinging, I suppose, to the hope that the diagnosis was wrong and one day his leg would recover. It didn’t, and eventually, this past March, I went into training with Flo, a spunky, exuberant black lab half her predecessor’s size!
In mid June, Tuscan began having difficulty with stairs. There are lots of them here. My vet first misdiagnosed the difficulty with his back right leg as a soft tissue injury. I wanted her to be correct, but in my heart, I knew she was way off base.
Medicine didn’t help and keeping him off the stairs, didn’t either. Another trip to another vet planted the seed for what was to come: the “mass” on the nerve sheath was likely to affect his back leg next if it had grown.
Finally, a visit to a neurologist confirmed that diagnosis. The tumor was growing down Tuscan’s spine and, in the neurologist’s words, he was “at the edge of the cliff” poised to go over at any time.
Medication for pain and my own vigilance for deciding when the cliff edge could no longer be before him was the plan.
It is so difficult to see a high-spirited, loving creature scrabble for balance and mobility. Each day, he was able to stand less, move less, or show that ever-burning inclination to shake a toy in that wonderful mouth and howl for the joy of it. (I always thought of that howl as singing, for it was indeed done with ecstasy and joy.) Yesterday, he didn’t move for an eight hour stretch. I kept going to him, cuddling, talking, listening. It truly seemed to me that he saying, “let me go.” AnD last night we did.
My house is quiet. My heart is broken. And I ask myself, as I have in the past, “How many times can I go through this?”
My friends with guide dogs are the best support. Kim Samco, the counselor at GDB who helps graduates with such grief, was especially kind. Her article on euthanasia gave exactly the information I needed most: namely, that only I would know that the time had come.
I was sure, and the attending vet confirmed my certainty – and yet, there will always be that shred of doubt asking, “Should I have waited ONE MORE DAY?”
Probably not. And my house is so quiet. … But Flo is here – young and exuberant and full of love to give. And someday, my aching heart is screaming, she’ll go, too. But the key command in guide work is a lesson for life. Tuscan is running again somewhere, running free, shaking a bone in his mouth, singing for the joy of it, and telling Flo and me to go Forward.