From Coast to Coast, Best Friends Logged over 375 Flights, Swam in Three Different Oceans, Chased Dreams and Ladies, Made People Laugh and Cry, and Inspired those Who would Help to Leave a Legacy.
As I write this, my best and oldest friend is at my feet. The muscles in his face are totally atrophic, he suffered a heat stroke while I was traveling with his successor last week, and this morning while in route to come home, he was receiving atropine and being packed in ice to lower a fever and keep him alive.
Jo (Jonah) is dying. He has been, but as long as he could walk the trails and play for even 5 minutes, I owed it to him to stay the inevitable euthanasia that is to come; in less than 36 hours, he will be gone.
To all that know him, he was a force to be reckoned with. A monstrous 40 foot figure in a poster with King Kong at Universal Studios Kong Adventure, the dog at Hard Rock pool-side that would unknowingly entertain and educate ‘Rockers’ kids and families while they were ‘gig’in’ somewhere in the park, “Cujo” to the GM’s of many Hotels and Casinos, a demonstrator of epic proportions that would inspire and raise the bar when it came to breaking the limitations of fundraising, the only dog to have permanent passes at the Velvet Sessions, a White House guest, a canine responsible for bringing over a dozen Service Dogs to those that never knew they needed them, a member and mascot of multiple teams…my alter ego and the best of who I am.
In less than 36 hours, Jo will be gone. Yet he still lays here, comfortably at my feet while I try to some up his life.
How am I going to deal with this? I just came back from a marathon training, coaching, speaking, competing trip, that was beyond awesome, successful, and gratifying.
The best that I can say is please read the attached tribute article I wrote when I officially retired him last year. Let it touch you; if not for me, for him. He has met each one of you and made you think, smile, wonder, and laugh…just as he’s done for me for over 12 years. Here he lays, 14+ years, with thermo-regulation failure, fusing hips, scoliosis, Horner’s syndrome, and a failing esophageal airway.
I couldn’t let him go in the clinical sterility that was the vet hospital today. He is home. He actually walked around outside tonight. Tomorrow I hope will be his best-ever day, full of life and wonder…because that is what he has given to me, my kids, my ex, and many of you too. Weds he will look over his back acres, as his doc injects him, and hopefully dream of all his best of times.
I ask a favor, especially of our celebrity and athlete friends…many of you once pledged to donate your vocals, guitar licks, drum kicks, bass lines, 88 keys, signed paraphernalia, sports gear, and even personal appearances to PAWS With A Cause once to help raise money for this great thing that Jonah helped to convey. Though so long ago, I don’t expect to call in any favors…it's not like I have that ‘family’ clout anymore anyway…but if you remember the meet and greets, the green room visits, and the accidental crossings; please find an avenue to align yourself with any service dog organization…if for one night only, one signed baseball, one pair of drum sticks, one autograph. Maybe, it just may keep his memory alive for you, and help me to honor his life. For everyone else, just remember him when you see another Service Dog, put $5 in a jar for a local kid who needs one, donate a dollar to your CFC Fund at work, or tell someone you once knew an amazing dog named “Jo”.
I feel as though the best part that is me is going to past and be gone; but I can’t! Mambo is Jonah’s successor, and we will continue to travel, entertain, educate, and carry on. I’m sure that’s how Jo would want it. I will miss him, but now I have to ease his last breaths, and realize the achievements that we’ve made together.
If ya'll can, please read the attachment; it’s nice. If you email or call and I don’t respond for a while, please give me some space and understand that “Jo” was no ordinary dog, he is still a piece of me..
|This was written over a year ago when I was applying for a new dog.
Dear Family and Friends,
Here’s the update that no client ever wants to give, but inevitably happens; a long working history, longer than most, needs to end.
Jonah has logged over 300 flights, accompanying me to 36 US National tournaments, 7 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, 3 Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinics, 5 US Open National Championships, and has been one of only a handful of canines to ever be registered as a resident of two US Olympic Training Centers. He has been greeted by Congressmen, Senators, Admirals, Commandants, Generals, and even the President of the United States of America on the South Lawn of the White House. Jonah has hung out on more outdoor concert stages and in VIP green rooms then most groupies could ever dream of; all by the request of the celebrities or their families. He’s been displayed on a 40 foot poster marquee at the old King Kong ride at Universal Studios, and has personally handed out thousands of PAWS pamphlets...although sometimes a bit soggy. So after all the planes, trains, automobiles, cruises ships, concerts, conventions, demonstrations, tournaments, and impromptu presentations; one has to wonder…was this too much for a service dog to handle? And, did we, together, push the envelope too far?
Now-a-days Jonah sits on the deck of our new home, overlooking his new places in the hills shadowing the Great Smoky Mountain National Park; it has become hard for him to do much of anything else. We have a Minor League Ball Park hosting the Chicago Cubs just a mile away from the house; we go and I think it reminds him of Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park. He likes lying down now, life is much slower for both of us here in Tennessee, but it’s the getting up (physically) and occasional travel that is proving to be more cumbersome as time moves forwarded for him. Jonah can no longer jump into our Jeep without assistance, and needs a wheelchair ramp to get off a commuter jet when the stairs use to be just fine for both of us; wheelchair waiting at the end of course. The first time it happened, I thought it was just a cramp in his haunch. But by the second and third time, I knew I could no longer allow him to endure the wearies of travel that being an old dog to a Paralympic athlete entails.
So, what do we do now?
Before all the major travel, rush, prep, and hoopla that accompanied our efforts just to get to the Summer Games of 2004 in Athens; Jonah was a great “poster dog” for the PAWS programs without exception, and a contributing writer to our magazine’s articles on travel. We were very blessed to be able to contribute as a demonstration team, and answered the call when ever possible. More important, he literally showed me the best of who I was and what I could become. That’s when my life went into high gear, just as his was starting to slow down.
How do I herald my dog’s career? Our career?
I guess I could do the celebrity-name-drop, number of countries visited, concerts and events attended, money fund raised, and the shear number of experiences that one canine has done over that of the average person; would that sum up his life? No, I don’t think so. What I can say, honestly, is that I feel that Jonah’s experiences, as well as my own, are all testimonies to the mission of the PAWS family. From the foster programs, general and individual training, field training, and re-evaluation programs: I can take a look at the past eleven years and say that little of what I’ve done for my independence, and subsequent heralded athletic career, would ever have been possible without such a proficiently trained canine as Jonah.
It almost sounds like I’m saying goodbye to Jonah as I sit here typing this letter, with my Paws Successor Canine approval letter (that I’ve been sitting on for 16 months) by the side of my laptop, and Jonah resting quietly at my feet. But here the realism of it all: 11 years of service, two cancer surgeries, various acute arthritic problems, daily Glucosomine and Chrondroiten supplements, retinal scaring, selective hearing, and the old-dog cough as well. He turns 13 years old in 3 days of this letter and it is time for him to just spend his days exploring the nature trails we’ve created for him in our back woods, and the opportunities to make friends with (or chase) our mountain top “critters”; the woodchucks, turkeys, lizards, and red tail foxes. He likes staying vigilant and aware of “his” home…still sounding off when the mail comes, when the raccoons get near the garbage, and when a predator is nearby; usually just a large mountain snake, but occasionally when the coyotes are pack hunting too close to the house at night as well. He’s found his place in life, and the big boy is happy one; even when it’s time for me to travel. I hate leave him when I fly, there is an emptiness and a challenge now, but he’s always there with my daughter every time I return.
So, I’ll say goodbye to Jonah’s active Service Dog career, send in my Successor Dog application, and give him all the love, respect, and playful attention that a 13 year old can handle. Now his trips will only consist of local mountain and stream adventures, the vet, the groomer, and the occasional tournament that I can drive to.
If this letter were to make it into our publication again, I believe Jonah would want to thank everyone at the PAWS Training Center, his foster mom (who passed away), our trainer Lori Griggs, Mike and Candy Sapp, AMVETS, the scores of individuals that had been impromptu dog-sitters, the US Army Veterinary Corps, and everyone who has ever come up asking if they could pet him…I know I do. Jonah has been my first full term Service Dog, and my life is forever changed. His successor, I am sure, will continue to enhance my life, my health, my wellness, and will hopefully breed the awareness of the need for Working Animals here in Eastern Tennessee and where ever we travel; just as his predecessor has done for the last 11 years, from coast to coast, across this great country of ours.
From my family, to our extended PAWS family, we thank you all. I wish Jonah would have written a whimsical Goodbye article, like in days of old; but I needed to say this for him this time and it hurts. But I chose to, and will still choose, far after his retirement and years have past; to celebrate his life and career rather than to say goodbye to it. I think every client should take comfort in knowing that the end of one dog’s service is the beginning of another dog’s career…it is a new adventure. As Jonah’s articles use to titled: The Adventure Continues...
Peace and God Bless,