Arthur and me

Arthur and me

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RIP Arthur

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
— Will Roger
I'm hoping to forestall some number of "Where's Arthur?" questions. The best answer I have is "I don't know." But that's the only question I'm really having trouble with. If you have any other questions about his life and death, please feel free to ask. I might cry, but please don't worry, I like to cry and I need to cry. He had 12 and a half years of love from a lot of people, and that's a pretty good run.

I raised Arthur for Guide Dogs of America, to be a dog guide for the blind and visually impaired. In that role, he got to go with me lots of places. He was the second of five dogs I raised, and the first to go into service.

He got to go to the opera. In fact, he got to sing there. One day, in the middle of Flying Dutchman, he got his paw caught a little behind the seat in front of us and let out a little yelp.

Let's let Leah Garchek of the SF Chronicle tell the story ..
As soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet's voice soared along with James Morris' during Tuesday night's San Francisco Opera performance of ``The Flying Dutchman,'' the duet turned to a trio. A series of delicate howls were voiced by a guide dog (probably a tenor) in training in the back of the orchestra. ``It was a very odd sound,'' said opera-lover Elle Stern, ``but it was a beautiful dog.''
My job as a puppy raiser was to socialize him, and expose him to lots of different situations. I think I did that pretty well.
He went to plays in Ashland, he went to drumming recitals. He was very cultured, even though he slept through a lot of it. He was on stage for one production I was in with Lyric Theater, Babes in Toyland, and backstage for many others through the years.

He went back to Doggy Grad School at about 18 months old, and had intensive training in the actual work of being a guide. On January 31st, 1999, he graduated with his partner, Kim, an experienced guide user living in the Vancouver, WA, area.

Kim and I kept in touch, and I saw him a few times over the years that followed. I particularly recall when Kim came down to the Bay Area with her Dragonboat team, and I went to watch her race. I was visiting Kim about three years later and she said, "I'm glad you dropped by, since I didn't know how to do this over the phone. Arthur is retiring, do you want him back?" By the end of lunch, I had decided that the answer was "hell yes", and he came back to me a little while later.

Kim is a firecracker, and Arthur was a bit too laid-back for her lifestyle. I have to wonder, given how laid-back Arthur was, just whom he might have been a better match for. He knew how to take it easy, and maybe just didn't really want to be a dog guide.

He's been with me ever since, and made a lot of friends, and done a lot more things. He's always loved to swim, and we tried to get a swim in at least once a month. I have a lot of stories to share, but I'll stick to just one.

Arthur is the only dog I know who got a joke I made. One of his commands was "kennel" to tell him to go to his crate to rest. One day at a garage sale, there was a tiny cat crate, with a door no more than six inches square. I pointed to it and said "kennel." He lowered his head and looked into it, and then looked up at me with a smile, which I'm sure was saying, "get out of here, you kidder!"

Last week, August 6th, 2009, we went to the vet because he didn't seem to be using his rear legs all that well. he wasn't getting on the couch, he wasn't rolling over for belly scratches, he wasn't doing back stretches as he usually would. At the end of the visit, I knew that he had extensive cancer, and it was all over his lungs. He wasn't in pain. We left the office and went up to Ocean Beach to go swimming. He ran after his favorite fetch dummy, and swam in the deep water to get it.

The last week has been good to him. He was allowed to eat anything he wanted, and he took advantage of that. I usually take Thursdays off from work, and often that's our swimming day. This week, I decided to go on Wednesday the 12th instead. He had a big bowl of kibble for breakfast, a side of peanut butter, three sausages, and a few pieces of bacon.

We went to Half Moon Bay, where the beach access is a bit easier. He trotted, but didn't run; he waded, but didn't swim. He had a great time, and it was hard for either of us to leave. At lunch, I ordered him a bacon cheeseburger, and he didn't want it. He wouldn't eat beef jerky, either, or kibble.

There were other signs, too .. He'd been drooling a lot more, his back legs were getting weaker and weaker, his breath was coming short and frequent. I think the cancer was pretty much taking over his lungs.

We spent a few hours with some of his close friends, and then went to the vet with my partner Katrina, and he died in my arms. He died with the scent of people who love him in his nose, and we know he loved us too.