In Memory: Daisy, the Service Dog

My mind had been made up from the very beginning of my relocation to Kansas; I knew I wanted a female yellow Labrador retriever, about two years old, and her name would become Daisy. I searched online for months, combing through various Labrador retriever rescue sites; at one point finding a female with some hunting experience whom I really wanted, but every time I’d try to set up a meet, I’d be told she was pre-adoption. Sadly for that chunky girl, it appeared multiple adoptions fell through, and by the time I was notified she was available (again), I had already set my sights on another chunky labbie-girl by the name of Charlotte. Charlotte was being fostered by a family in Missouri, who took her in to avoid her owner taking Charlotte to the pound. Without even meeting her, I agreed that Charlotte would become a Crusade.

The foster family, who lived further East in Missouri, had a friend near Kansas City who agreed to foster Charlotte for a day or so until I could drive out to get her. It made for a shorter drive for me, and I was able to drive out after work one evening, with the next day off, to pick her up. I will always remember how I was greeted when the homeowner opened the front door after I knocked. Charlotte, moments from becoming Daisy, stood in the front doorway, dancing in a circle at the sight of me, with a big Labrador grin which seemed to say, “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for you!”

As I loaded Daisy into the front seat of my little Ford Ranger, she settled down lying across the bench seat with her head in my lap. That’s how we drove home.

I was living in an apartment at that time. It was late when we arrived and I was tired. I brought Daisy into the bedroom, with every intention that this sweet labbie-girl would lie on the floor beside the bed. When I returned from the bathroom, Daisy had already made herself comfortable on my queen size bed and was snuggled in. This seemed amusing and incredible to me, as Daisy didn’t present any shyness with me. She had been a neglected dog, fostered by a loving family that couldn’t keep her because they already had canine family, but I had the understanding that, in her former life, Daisy had spent much time crated by her owner; a young gal who purchased the adorable yellow puppy to love, but who kept her crated while at work, and sometimes while out with friends after work. The yellow Labrador formerly known as Charlotte had a history of urinary tract infections, which I assumed were attributed to too infrequent opportunities to urinate.

Initially, Daisy had to remain at home while I worked. She had free range of the apartment and I would come home at the end of the work day to find that she’d urinated inside; usually on her blanket (brought from her previous life) or on a pillow. She apparently recognized peeing on the floor was a bad thing, so rationalized that urination on a blanket or pillow excused the action. I remember coming home from work and finding Daisy had placed one of my boots, or her leash, on the sofa as if to let me know the moment I arrived home that it was time to go out. Her ability to communicate with me was wonderful, and frequently amusing. One day I came home and Daisy had pulled a gun case, with a handgun, up onto the bed, unzipped it, and pulled out the gun. Fortunately I had it unloaded. Daisy also would grab some of my stuffed bears, as I collected them, and place them on the bed to snuggle with. I guess they smelled of me.

As soon as I was able, I enrolled Daisy in classes at Petco in Manhattan (the Little Apple) to help us bond. She seemed to have basic commands down already, but I wanted to assert myself lovingly as her Person, and make sure we would work together as a team. That’s when the Universe interceded further, placing us in class with Gina, the woman who would take us under her wing and train us as a SD team. We took multiple classes at Petco with Gina as our trainer, as well as beginning training for successful completion of the Canine Good Citizen from AKC. I remember the first time we sat in class together, with other dogs barking and somewhat running amok, and Daisy remained calm, lying by my side. Gina asked, “How old is she?!” “Two years old,” I replied. Gina stated Daisy wasn’t like any two year old Labrador she’d ever encountered and acted more like she was eight years old. Daisy was a stoic labbie-girl, attentive to me, and not at all swayed by the other dogs or owners. Over time, she seemed to develop a small preference for tiny dogs, which she sometimes wanted to associate with, and she fell in love with Gina, associating Petco with good times.

Over time, Daisy proved an apt student, earning her CGC, CGCA (Canine Good Citizen Advanced), therapy dog certification and earning her place beside me as my service dog after completing an 86 task public access test. Daisy was then vetted by EEO at Fort Riley and approved to accompany me as my legal disability accommodation. We continued to train with Gina and go on SD outings. Daisy faced down a lion at the Topeka zoo (with a thick sheet of glass between them), while the other service dogs backed away. Daisy just stood there staring at the lioness who licked the glass where Daisy’s face was, as if she was vanilla ice cream. We took a train ride on the Smoky Railroad out of Abilene, and though Daisy didn’t seem overly fond of the trip, she always recognized when a train was passing and would perk up her ears excitedly as if to say, “I rode one of those!”

As my service dog, Daisy accompanied me everywhere, except out on the hunt. By the time I started hunting, I’d purchased a crate for her, so my labbie-girl could feel safe, and remain somewhere she wouldn’t urinate in my absence. Daisy became quite adept at travel by airplane and had learned to curl up as small as possible (although she often overlapped the other seat’s foot space, usually without incident as my seat neighbors always seemed enamored of having a dog in their row). She even became comfortable lying with her head and upper body under the seat beside me, where purses get stored. When we first started flying, Daisy and I would be placed in the back row, where we were the only passengers, and she would lie on the seat with her head on my lap. Before too long, airlines started demanding service dogs remain on the floor, so I started demanding the disabled seating in the bulkhead.

One year we travelled out to Las Vegas to see my folks and we all took the RV up into the mountains where a fishing lake was stocked with trout. I purchased a life vest for her, and Daisy and I went out with my step-dad on his boat trolling for trout. Ever since, Daisy became a fan of boating, and though I never fulfilled my promise to her to get her a boat, she would always watch them longingly when we would go out to Milford Lake to fish from shore. For over six years, Daisy served faithfully as my service dog. It was an answer to my prayers, because I was so frustrated at work that I wanted to quit and follow a path that would allow me to work with my dog. The Universe managed to keep me in my position and working with my dog, which satisfied me enough. I’ve now been stationed as a substance abuse counselor at Fort Riley for over nine years.

Daisy remained a fairly stoic dog, wise beyond her years. An old soul, I called her. Yet she loosened up over time and fell in love with almost everyone I worked with. My team became her work pack. Even my patients wouldn’t mind treatment as much because Daisy was there. During the time I facilitated group therapy, I would remove Daisy’s SD vest when my group started and give her the “free’ command. She’d then go around to all the soldiers in group, find the ones’ most in need of support, and give them attention; sometimes even jumping up on their lap. Nothing makes a depressed person feel better than the love of a Labrador retriever, especially when the dog picked the soldier out for attention. When ASAP clinical remained in old barracks I would turn Daisy loose at the end of the day, when no patients were around. The linoleum floors were waxed and had carpet runners on them; and Daisy would tuck her “otter tail” in and scamp down the long hallway, sliding on the runner. Then she’d turn around and come back in my direction. Sometimes I would leave her in my office while I went to the bathroom or to do something administrative and I’d come back to find Daisy visiting with co-workers in their offices. Once, a co-worker said that Daisy came to her door and peered in as if looking for me, and when I wasn’t there, she moved on to the next office.

Daisy didn’t bark much either. For the five years we lived in the apartment, I think Daisy barked about five times. Certainly less than 10. Once she barked at a Park Ranger who approached me while I was fishing. Her only real trigger to bark while in the apartment was when she looked down from the third floor and saw camouflaged hunters walking in the parking lot or out in the open in the woods. I always suspected she singled them out as a projection of anger against hunting, as that’s when I left her home alone crated. She was very vocal however, having learned to mimic a co-worker of mine who spoke to Daisy in a high, sing-song voice. Aunty Judy, as the co-worker became known, adored Daisy, and Daisy adored Aunty Judy, and learned to communicate through a sing-song utterance that made people seem to love her even more. For when she saw someone she loved, Daisy would begin her excited utterance (Daisy-speak), with her tail wagging and her butt swinging, and there was no question that she was happy to see you!

About year 3 or 4 in the apartment, I started looking to buy a house. I promised Daisy that I would get her one, and she’d accompany me for drives to look for houses for sale. Finally things fell into alignment in 2018 and I was able to purchase my current home. Daisy and I would visit the house before I bought it, taking photos in front of it, and I would tell her, “This is going to be your house!” Once the deal was done, I made sure Daisy heard, “This is your house, Daisy!” She knew it too. Once we moved in, Daisy started to bark. Not often, but as a warning when assessed potential threats went by. Although her fear of thunder, which I’ll explore momentarily, remained; it seemed to subside once Daisy had her own home. I guess she felt safer there; maybe picking up on my energy. It was our home; a wonderful and secure place to be. And our real estate agent, Joy, had treated Daisy just like she was purchasing the home too, allowing her in to peruse the house and yard. The house and yard provided Daisy with one year of retirement before she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Almost one year to the day….

Now, thunder and storms weren’t something Daisy came to me with a fear of. I suspect I took her down the path, inadvertently. First off; I brought her with me one weekend when I went out shooting; target practice. I kept her in the covered bed of my Ranger truck and someone stayed near her. Though she didn’t respond poorly, it was likely her first experience with rifle fire, and a scary enough one at that. Then one year a major storm hit, and lightening hit one of the apartment buildings across the parking lot from our building. The fire department came out and it was reported the fire was addressed but embers smoldered in the roof, then the wind picked up, and the whole roof was ablaze. I watched it from my bedroom window and was horrified, especially because I was afraid the wind would sweep the fire across rooftops to mine. The fire raged into the night and I paced the apartment agitated, lining my bugout gear by the front door. It was truly then, I fear, that Daisy developed her fear of storms. I believe she took on my fear for our safety, and though I got over it with no lasting concern about thunderstorms, Daisy held on to it. In the apartment from that time on, she would shake like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz when she heard a storm brewing. Once we moved into our own home, however, though she retained some fear, her shaking was much less. Of course, as she became a senior dog she also lost some of her hearing; so it could just be Daisy couldn’t hear the scary thunder anymore.

Fire alarms seemed to be a staple at our apartment complex, regardless of size of the fire, or if the threat was even real. At all hours, the fire alarm would sound and we’d have to go outside and wait for the “all clear.” It didn’t help matters that fire alarm drills were also regular at work. Usually we were tasked with leaving the building, but sometimes it was announced to “shelter in place.” Well, shelter in place is not a concept a dog can understand, especially with all the drills we experienced. Daisy just had to see the alarm lights flashing in the hospital, with no noise at all, to stand up and move toward the door. If I wasn’t fast enough, Daisy would look over at me like, “Get up! Let’s go!” Because she associated the lights, the alarm, and the announcements as a threat, Daisy and I vacated the building every time, even if we were told to shelter in place. Daisy wasn’t messing around when it came to getting us down the stairs and away from perceived danger.

For years, Daisy loved on a Lambchop toy, as if it were her baby. That’s what I called it; “Daisy, get your baby….” Many years equaled many incarnations of little Lambchop, who was first given to Daisy by a co-worker turned friend of mine named Karen. Karen is a big dog lover, and she loved Daisy very much. Sometimes Aunty Karen and her Pointer, Pickles, would meet up with Daisy and me and we’d watch the Veteran’s Day parade, or go to a dog park. Daisy even joined us one day when Aunty Karen was working a dog show in Topeka. Daisy was the only SD working the dog show, alongside us. Lambchop stayed Daisy’s baby to the end. Her most recent tattered Lambchop, from last Christmas, accompanied Daisy across the Rainbow Bridge. Aunty Karen came by to visit with Daisy the day before she transcended, bringing a couple of new Lambchop stuffies, which Daisy laid near but never got to love on.

Daisy was truly a beloved canine. I called her a canine angel, as did others. Each year on Daisy’s birthday we’d celebrate either at work or at home. Co-workers/friends would bring in treats, Daisy would don her birthday hat, and then we’d all gather around her and sing, “Happy Birthday.” A few times I threw a party at my apartment, and co-workers/friends and even neighbors would come over to celebrate Daisy. One year Aunty Karen brought Pickles to Daisy’s party. My friends at work even threw Daisy a retirement party complete with human and dog treats, and on her last day, our Behavioral Health Director came by my office and saluted Daisy.

I’ve loved many dogs, and as a child had an extra special German Shepherd who was my guardian and protector. Yet I have never loved a dog like I’ve loved Daisy. Before Riley came into the family, Daisy and I were a pack of two (#packoftwo). Being with a dog 24/7 creates a unique relationship that likely only other human team members of a service dog team can understand. Daisy was my partner, like a spouse, as well as being like a child. Though I rescued her, Daisy rescued me 10 times over; helping me become the most authentic me I’ve ever been. She comforted my emotional wounds, recognized my physical illnesses and comforted those as well. When I first took her out fishing with me, and introduced her to a trout, which she’d apparently never seen, she fell in love with fishing, and regularly attempted to help me catch fish by singing to them and leaping into the water when one was on the line (ultimately freeing it). I purposefully included Daisy in the picking of my puppy, given that she’d be spending a lot of time with him. There was only one pup she considered even worth a sniff, and that little-man is now my 80+ pound Riley-pup. Daisy picked him. And throughout his first year of life with us (#packofthree) Daisy played with him and taught him something about being loyal to his Person. He also taught her how to fetch; a task that had escaped her for all of her training and work as my SD; and he kept her young at heart. Daisy played with Riley until she was just ready to slip the surly bonds of Earth.

Daisy’s last day on this plane was painful for her and for me. I don’t know that she experienced genuine physical pain, but recognized her feeling of helplessness, and saw the look of desperation in her eyes. She let me know when she was ready to go, but her timing hadn’t been good, as she made her pronouncement to me on Friday night, and I wasn’t ready to accept the finality of it, so hoped she would rally again on Saturday and begin eating. Daisy did not, but by the time I realized she truly was ready, the Veterinarian’s office was closed and we waited until Monday. My labbie-girl went four days without food, though she continued to drink water. In the morning on November 9th, as I prepared to leave for work, Daisy collapsed. I covered her partly with a blanket and prayed she’d survive until I returned home. I was previously going to take half the day off, staying home after lunch, but notified my supervisor that I believed I had to go home by mid-morning, and he agreed. She had moved only slightly, to avoid the place where she’d vomited on the floor. I knew at that point that my hope for Daisy being mobile and walking herself to the truck was expired, so I reached out to an Army friend and asked if she would help me load Daisy in the truck when it was time. I suggested Aunty Daphane arrive early to spend some time with Daisy, as she, too, had been part of Daisy’s work pack. When Aunty Daphane arrived, much to my surprise, Daisy got up to greet her; then laid down beside her and soaked up 30 minutes of loving. When it was time to get Daisy in the truck however, she had only enough stamina to walk away from the front door and lie down on her camo Army dog bed. We slid her, on the bed like a sleigh, across the living room, hoping that Daisy might propel herself up to help get in the truck, but Daisy had decided that she would be carried like the royal highness (#hrhdaisy) she is. Aunty Daphane and I used the dog bed as a sling and two-person carried Daisy to the truck. I drove Daisy down the road to our veterinarian, where staff carried Daisy into the surgery room and placed her on a bed of blankets laid out on the floor.

When Daisy eventually crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, she did so covered by her travel blanket (she was traveling after all) and with baby Lambchop beside her. They remain with her for the remainder of her earthly journey to be cremated and returned to me.

A part of my heart and soul crossed over with Daisy, and I will never be the same without her. Though I will never be the same because of her. The only upside in her timing is that Daisy made the determination that she was ready. I had endeavored to keep her rallying through Thanksgiving so that my son and daughter-in-law would be able to say goodbye, but Daisy seemed content with her visit in August, when we traveled to Colorado to RV with them. I learned the night Daisy crossed over (09NOV20) that my son, Dare, considered Daisy to be like his own dog, particularly prior to finally adopting one with his wife. The world has been changed by Daisy’s presence in it, at least in the Continental United States. She is now free to enhance the Other Side with her loving sweetness.

END OF WATCH, DAISY THE SERVICE DOG.

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