Friday, February 9, 2018

Such a Big Part of Our Lives

This article will be published in the Winter, 2017 issue of DIALOGUE Magazine under the title “A family Dog and So Much More.”

My son Caleb has always traveled with skill and courage. Early on, my husband Murray and I encouraged him to get a dog guide. In June of 2007, between his junior and senior year in high school, Caleb went to The Seeing Eye in New Jersey.

When Caleb got his dog, he laughed, and we did too. Her name was Esther, and so was one of the two cats who were part of our home. Two sweet Esthers, both such a big part of our lives, and we lost both this year.

Esther was a golden retriever. Her doctor, who has been a veterinarian for 26 years, said, “I’ve never met a golden retriever I didn’t like. They don’t make bad ones.”

Caleb’s mobility skills and confidence grew even more once he had Esther. He has never been afraid to travel alone to unfamiliar places, and Murray says Caleb always walks confidently.

Esther was accepted by students and staff in high school. Caleb got a special hat for her for the occasion, and she walked, happily,  with him in his graduation ceremony.

She didn’t actually walk with him in the marching band, but she was always there with him for practice and other band activities. At Caleb’s final marching band award ceremony, Esther got “The Two Left Feet” award.

Esther also attended college with Caleb, approved his roommates in the dorm, and walked with him at his graduation for his bachelors in English. He said she slept through every class he took, sometimes yipping in her dreams, which amused the other students.

Our youth minister used to stop by our row in church to say hi to us. “Hello, Abigail … hello, Martha. Good seeing you in church.” I asked Caleb what he was talking about, and Caleb said, “He’s pretending he can’t remember which Bible name Esther has.”

Our family always worked hard—not with a hundred percent success, but not bad—to support Caleb with using Esther as a dog guide. We didn’t feed her table food; we wouldn’t pet her when she was working. If we bought her a new toy, we’d give it to Caleb to give to her. He was in control of her.

But when the harness came off, she was a family dog. So many wonderful memories.

When she was young, she’d greet us by jumping up and placing her paws on our chest. Esther weighed around sixty pounds, and Caleb carried her around the house like a baby.

She usually lay by my feet at the dinner table, not begging, but hopeful. I didn’t purposely drop crumbs to her, but she seemed to think I was the most likely to do that. She loved to lick my feet, and always sniffed them disappointedly when it got cold enough for me to start wearing socks in the fall.

Esther met us at the door when we came home with a gift in her mouth, either a toy, or a shoe. After Caleb retired her a little over a year ago, she would jump up before he even opened the front door. She could hear him coming home. Until her last days, when she had trouble walking, she still met Caleb at the door. He was her person.

But since she retired, she spent most of her days, while Caleb was at work, lying beside my feet as I worked on the computer or read or knitted. She was my precious friend.

When I came down stairs in the morning, Esther met me at the bottom with a toy in her mouth, growling. She hated thunder storms, and even when I couldn’t hear the thunder, she could, and she’d forget she was a big dog and try to climb in my lap.

A memory I’ll always hold dear. This summer, when Caleb, Sarah and Murray were all out of town, I had gone to bed when I heard Esther jumping at my bedroom door and crying. It was thundering, and she needed me. She was a very well-behaved dog, and she’d never done that before, but there was no one else she could reach in the house, and it was an emergency.

In August or September of this year, we noticed a lump on Esther’s face and took her to the vet. She had a tumor, and, since she was twelve years old, they discussed with us treating her with hospice care, making sure she was as comfortable as possible for however long she seemed to still be enjoying life.

Some of the closest and hardest times I’ve shared with my children is when we’ve lost pets.

I remember Rebecca coming to my room one night, and we cried together after she found her box turtle Scumbo dead. (Murray was responsible for that name, and Scumbo was truly a fun family pet.)

Rebecca and I lay on the living room floor for most of the night with her kitty Holly the night she died.

Sarah cried with me earlier this year when my cat Esther died.

And early on November 6, Sarah, Caleb and I all sat on the floor around our sweet dog, waiting for the veterinarian office to open so Caleb could call for an appointment.

Later that morning, Caleb and I both stood with our hands on Esther as the doctor put her to sleep.

When Caleb gets another dog, we’ll love him and have fun with him. But that will never change the fact that Esther was such a great part of our lives.

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