I have edited this piece very minimally, and mostly as a result of basic proofing. It took me a while to recuperate from from the events of the last several days. After receiving this story of Fenris’ First Day, I finally felt I could present Finnian’s Last Day, which I felt was too difficult to read on its own.

My esoteric Catholic psychic friend used to assure me that death and re-birth were two sides of the same coin.

Fenris is the new service dog, to whom Finnian handed his baton. This transaction happened so graciously that it brought tears to my eyes.

Here’s a picture of the two of them together on Dawn’s lap:

Finnian passes the torch to Fenris (front)

Finnian passes the torch to Fenris (front)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Here are Dawn’s words:

    Fenris woke up knowing that this was a different kind of day. Maybe she even knew before [she awoke that the sun would rise] to a world without Finnian.

    She had curled up into a ball and pressed into my tummy all night [the night before], like a puppy waiting to be born. If I moved, she moved with me.  If I lifted my head, looking for a familiar companion in the night, she lifted her head also. “I am here,” she seemed to say simply, “I am the familiar companion you are looking for.”

    When I woke up, Fenris greeted me with her liquid brown eyes, laughing almonds, all things good in their sparkle.  Before I got her from the breeder who didn’t want her anymore, she had somehow learned to “pray” by standing on her back legs and putting her front paws together as she hopped up and down. I always laughed when she did this. Even though her legs were deformed she managed to enjoy this little prayer dance, and it made me laugh this morning, too.

    I gave Fenris her organic breakfast. Then I reached for Finnian’s medicine to give it to him. My vet had put it in a molasses syrup, which Finnian loved to have in the morning.  But as I turned to find him, I realized that he was still gone. Fenris smiled up at me instead. I fished around in the refrigerator to find the treat she loves best: little chunks off the big, meaty training roll we use for all the dogs. I gave her one for Finnian and one for her.  I made the piece for her bigger.

    I got down on my knees to talk to her snout to snout.  “Finnian picked you, you understand that, right?”

    She wagged her puffy tail and smiled.

    “Are you ready to start today?”

    Wag. Wag. Wag.

    “It’s a tough job.  Are you sure?  You will have to be my dancing partner.  A constant dancing partner to my soul.”

    Wag. Wag.

    “Ok. I trust you.”

    I took out my needle and thread and got Finnian’s service dog vest from the cupboard. I ripped out the seams, and brushed out Finnian’s small gray hairs where they had gotten caught in between. I took the little vest apart and measured Fenris.  Slowly and carefully I re-sewed the vest to fit her.  I put the vest on her and stood back.

    Wag. Wag. Wag. Smile.

    Today was a big day.  We were taking my son down to Seattle, a couple hours away, to see a Children’s Theater play about an Egyptian king who tried to find a stone that would give him immortality. Rather than finding the stone, he found his inner strength.

    Fenris stayed still in her front pack. She was friendly to the people who reached for her without reading the “Service Dog: Do Not Pet” sign on the front of the pack.  When I took her out, she laid down on my lap and didn’t move a muscle during the whole play. I leaned around to see her face.It was clear she was watching the play intently; watching everything that was happening on the stage.

    Her brown eyes were dancing as she listened and took in all the colors and movements. I had to laugh out loud for this was the little girl who had lived in a kennel all her short life, and only saw nothing but wire, bars, and concrete.

    After the play, we went to meet friends at the food court in the Seattle Center. We ate lunch there with Fenris in her new front pack, never begging, never even sniffing the food so close to her.

    Afterwards, we went to see the Lucy exhibit at the Center. Even though I took a long time in the reading each exhibit slowly in the crowded halls, Fenris stayed quiet and relaxed in the front pack. Sometimes she looked up at me and smiled, as if yo say, “This is fun. I love being with you.”

    One of the guards at the exhibit who had watched us a long time came up to us.

    “She’s beautiful.  Did you train her yourself?” She asked.

    It went through my mind that the answer was more complex than “yes” or “no”.  As my friend with an autism support dog says, “they either have it or they don’t”.  You can train a dog to within an inch of its life, but if it doesn’t do that dance with your soul, there is no service dog. Fenris licked the woman’s fingers daintily after the woman asked if it was ok.

    “I think she trained herself,” I said.

    “Well, I’ve never seen a dog more in tune with its handler. She has been so quiet and good.”

    I told thanked the guard and scratched Fenris’ head. No one would ever believe this was her “First Day.”

    Finally, we emerged into the cool evening air. I gave Fenris treats and water and let her walk on the grass. She stayed at my heel. On the way home she slept on my lap, looking up sometimes to gauge the stars. “Are we home?” Then, she would look at me.  “Oh, yes. We are.”

    Life goes on.

    Dawn

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