Today I’m saying goodbye to my service dog, Molly. Molly is 12 or 13 years old, and had retired earlier this year because her hip problems had accelerated. She’s had a good life full of adventure and opportunities many dogs don’t get to have.
Molly first came into our family as a rescue. She had been running loose emaciated but friendly along a highway in North Carolina, where my brother picked her up. He was pretty sure he knew where she was from, and that they were just waiting for her to get hit. So he scooped her up and brought her home to Pennsylvania and started training her.
My brother trained her for several years on the basics- how to be obedient, how to behave around other animals, how to know the difference between an idle comment and actual need. He taught her that running into traffic was bad, but remembering who is safe or not is good. And since he was young and his place was the party house, how to recognize humans who were out of it, and how to make sure they were safe. To read humans when they couldn’t take care of themselves.
After that and more, she was staying with my parents. I was homeless off and on, sometimes couch surfing sometimes not, spent a little time in an unofficial life sharing set up, and couldn’t take her at that point. Since we hadn’t gotten to train her in my disability specific tasks yet, she couldn’t come with me to the hotels I was at for work, or the emergency housing I spent one night at in a nursing home setting. (I’ll write more on that somewhere soon.) During this time, Molly met the bear.
We don’t know exactly what happened but based on her personality and the vet’s deductions we think that this is what happened: Molly was adventuring in the woods before she would need to go to a dog sitter for the family vacation. She saw some dark creatures about her size playing and went up to them to say hi, being a friendly dog. Unfortunately these were bear cubs, and mama bear did not like this dog playing with her cubs. She scooped Molly’s hindquarters into her jaws, taking a big bite into her. But when momma bear loosed her jaws to take a better bite, Molly got herself out and away and headed towards home, injured but alive.
My mother had been packing the car and was getting ready to find the dogs to take them to the dogsitters. But she couldn’t find Molly. She went around the garden calling for her, but didn’t find her. And then, she noticed some ferns shaking. She called again. The ferns shook more, but Molly didn’t emerge. After this happened a couple of times, my mother waded into the ferns and found her. Molly was laying there with something dangling out of her belly. My mother scooped her up and raced her to the vet, thinking that this was a fatal injury and that her intestines were dangling out.
The vet said she was lucky she was overweight for her body. The dangling matter was just fat, and that fat had saved her life. I hadn’t been around- I’d managed to get a conference to cover me and I was out of town. My mother was relieved she didn’t have to explain that this dog was dead to me, and counted her blessings. Molly was frankindoggie for a while, with the drainage straws and stitches, but she recovered and was left with a little arthritis and a lot of scar tissues. If you’ve met Molly in a setting where she was allowed to get pets, you may have felt them. I may even have encouraged you to feel them as messaging the scar tissue and petting it seemed to make her feel better and reduce the inflammation.
After she was healed as she could get and I was finally housed she began her disability specific training, admittedly later in life than most service dogs. All the same she took to it instantly. She understood that if I was disoriented in the store and we were with my mom, she had to take me to her. That if we were alone she had to find a quiet spot out of the way and get me to sit down. If we were in the community near home, to take me home. She could tell before I could that I needed to pee, or that I needed to drink water or hadn’t eaten recently. She knew how to read what I needed and do whatever was within her power to do it.
One time I had been avoiding drinking water to deal with something else and she slowly escalated until she growled at me, startling Julia Bascom and prompting me to get water. She also would know once I made up my mind to follow through with something and quietly nudge and encourage me to follow through. Going new places was easier with her both because I didn’t have to self monitor for things like seizure-like activity or bathroom time, but also because she would bring me courage and even tug me just enough to follow through if I froze.
Molly loved being on the train. We used to ride Amtrak every couple of months for various things down in the south east Pennsylvania region, and she was so happy about it. She would act as though she was saying “mom mom hurry up! Get on the train! We love the train!” when the train would pull up to the platform. She also flew, though she liked that considerably less. She loved meeting new people in new places even if she didn’t get free time to cuddle or say hi. She just loved people.
Earlier this spring, Molly retired. Her hips were dislocating too often for it to be fair to her to keep her working. She had a wonderful time being retired and spending time with my parents when I wasn’t home, but by the end of May, she could no longer hike down the mountain and back with my mom. In the past several weeks she hasn’t been able to walk beyond the yard without needing carried. In the past week or two, we’ve needed to carry her back up the garden. Last week she fell into a ditch and she hadn’t been the same since. She lost bladder and bowel control in the past few days, and a couple days ago her breathing had become heavy, short, and sounding wet in her chest. She’d been in pain. All of this is a long term complication from what the bear did, combined with the natural effects of aging.
Today, I lay in the yard with her, cuddling her for the last time. We gave her some neurotin to help with her pain, and gave her lots of love. The cats even cuddled with us. I was in the yard with her when I started this post. She’s now gone, buried just inside the wood line at the bottom of the garden, in sight of where my hammock is. My mother and I had left to give the other dogs ice cream so that they wouldn’t have to be here when my stepfather put her to sleep and then into the ground. And, I imagine, so I wouldn’t have to be here.
Molly made the world better for me, both in general and as a disabled person. She helped make it more navigable. She allowed me to participate in the world at times I wouldn’t have been safe to if I hadn’t had her with me- pain days, dissociated days, panicked days, all could be spent in the community instead of in bed knowing she would get me to safety if I were to over do it or become overwhelmed. I’ll miss her infinitely.
In her memory, I’m asking people to donate to an indiegogo for a documentary about ADAPT’s history and work, Piss on Pity. ADAPT has worked since before I was born to bring visibility for and pressure on decision makers for disability rights. Their work has directly impacted my ability to navigate in this world. It is my hope that people who see this film will be inspired to not only support disability rights in whatever method is open to them, but to also work towards justice in general and for their individual causes. Not, of course, out of pity but because people giving a movement their all can be empowering and motivating. From there I feel that your support would be continuing Molly’s work out into our society.
Thank you everyone for your support. If you’ve met Molly, feel free to share. If you just want to share in my grief, that is good too. And again if you want to support Piss on Pity in her name, the link is here. Thanks.