BITS and PIECES # 63

3

April 7, 2017 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 63

Hello again from Luquillo,

I’m slowly (but surely) working my way through ‘Turkey Tales, part 2’, driven as before by frequent news media coverage of the current Turkish situation …

However, when another media story which mentioned that the AKC (American Kennel Club) has once again determined that the most popular canine breed in the US (and possibly the world) is the Labrador retriever, I was reminded that it has been five (or is it six ?) years now since Ricky, my beloved friend, faithful canine companion and guide dog ‘sans pair’ departed for the ‘happy sniffing grounds’ …

Accordingly, I humbly request that those of you who may remember this exceptional ‘gentle pooch’, join with me in reviewing the following Ricky retrospective …

First, to impart a playful tone to this ex post facto collection, here is a bit of nonsense rhyme (I dare not call it poetry!) featuring a Ricky-like ‘avatar’, that I penned for my granddaughter Nicole on April Fool’s Day 2003 – she had turned 8 the day before, and Ricky, age 4, was by then relishing the delicious physical delights of being a dog in his ‘salad days’, so to speak …

DOGGEREL

My dog has fleas on his knees

Which some think provokes him to sneeze

But frankly his fondness for cheese

Makes him sneeze

Whether Camemberts, Cheddars or Brieses

His devotion to cheese leads to wheezes

And disruption of all of the fleases

On his kneeses

When he sneezes

© 2003, 2017 Alan Mowbray Jr.

Next, an historical Ricky colloquy describing our burgeoning attachment, and subsequent events in our decade-long relationship, a shorter version of which appeared in ‘Snapshots from the Road’, a collection of stories published in 2011 …

A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

Sim-bi·o·sis

  1. pl. sym·bi·o·ses
  2. Biology: A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may benefit each member.
  3. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

In, 2011 my partner Ricky and I had been together for just over a decade. Over the years we had become inseparable – ‘joined at the hip’ in the current vernacular …

We first met when we trained together at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York’s upstate community of Yorktown Heights. It was love at first encounter for both of us – when he bounded across the room, sat at my feet and licked my face, I was both captured and captivated – surely we were meant for each other!

Ricky was a two year old, highly trained Labrador retriever service dog – I had recently lost most of my eyesight to undetected end-stage Glaucoma …

In a letter-perfect example of symbiosis we were soon permanently enmeshed in a ‘close, prolonged association between two different species that may benefit each member.’ – except in our case there was no ‘may’ about it. Upon graduation from Guiding Eyes’ rigorous month-long course of instruction, we had become inseparable companions – each partner performing his prescribed tasks with eagerness and acumen. Ricky was the consummate service animal – always considerate of my needs, he was forceful when danger lurked, skillfully guiding me around potential trouble spots. In return, I fed him (1 ½ cups of dry dog food, twice a day, augmented by occasional afternoon snacks), took him down to ‘park’ (a service dog euphemism for voiding waste) three times a day, picking-up the solid waste results in a disposable bag and depositing it in the trash, groomed him (brush, comb and rub-down) for ten minutes each morning, cleaned his ears and brushed his teeth weekly – and, of course, each afternoon or early evening a half hour or more of play-time – his favorite ‘toy’ was a plastic chew-bone ,that I would throw, and he would retrieve, ad infinitum, until he tired of the game or we both succumbed to exhaustion …

It was a routine that worked perfectly for both of us – Ricky was compensated for his scrupulous, focused management of my mobility, while I was repaid in great measure for my few canine maintenance labors by his attentiveness and unflagging friendship …

To be sure, it was not always sweetness and light – like most close relationships, ours occasionally faltered slightly – when I was in a grouchy mood and snapped at him, or, conversely, when he became attitudinally stubborn (in service dog parlance it’s called ‘persistence’) refusing to obey a command without a vigorous leash correction …

But overall, our problems were few – we quickly overcame each minor disagreement and remained the best of friends …

Because of my failed eyesight, physical impressions of Ricky were mostly reduced to the tactile, augmented by descriptions (“his brown eyes are so intelligent and expressive”; “his black fur is so shiny” and, my favorite “he is very handsome”) furnished by ‘sighted’ friends. I gradually connected the dots and filled-in the blanks by scratching him behind his wonderfully floppy ears, massaging his massive neck after each long, strenuous outing, and when I buried my nose in the soft fur between his ears to breathe-in his unique and compelling doggish scent …

Ricky and Pam rapidly began what would become an enduring attachment as well – when he and I returned home to Puerto Rico from New York after our training, Ricky swiftly seemed to sense that she was the most important person in my life, and Pam reciprocated without pause, accepting Ricky unequivocally as a loved and respected family member …

Early-on, as Pam and Ricky were just getting acquainted, he and I left on a business trip to Nashville. When we returned a week later, as we de-planed, Pam was waiting for us at the jet-way. When Ricky spied her he jumped joyously into the air and twisting in his harness, turned-back to me, as if to say ‘Hey partner, look who’s here!’ …

A few years later, when Pam, Ricky and I traveled to Washington DC to attend a Forest Service award ceremony, he displayed an innate intelligence coupled with a real-time decision-making ability. As we were walking along the mall from our hotel to Forest Service headquarters in the old US mint building, Pam noticed that the sidewalk crossing had a ramp from the curb to the street to accommodate handicapped pedestrians. Grasping my arm, she maneuvered Ricky and I toward it. Ricky swiftly assimilated this new datum, and, without the benefit of command, unerringly steered me to each successive ramp along the way. That afternoon, we traveled on the DC Metro system to the Air and Space museum. Ingress to the Metro required travel by escalator down to the subterranean level where the trains operated. Ricky adroitly guided me onto the crowded moving stairway, and then, squirming around in his harness, strove to see how I was faring, jamming us both in the escalator’s extremely narrow confines. Promptly sensing the seriousness of his ‘guide-dog-gaffe’, he managed to twist himself around moments before the escalator would have ejected us in a heap onto the train platform!

That evening, in our room at the Residence Inn, he flaunted his quirky sense of humor by pulling the down-filled comforter off of the bed (and off of Pam and I in the process) to fashion a warm nest for himself on the floor beside the bed – Pam was convinced that she caught him grinning slyly when we awoke shivering in the middle of the night to forcibly retrieve the results of his furtive, nocturnal burglary …

At home, he was Pam’s constant kitchen companion, especially when she was making cookies, and, to his delight, he was allowed to lick the tasty remains from mixing spoons …

He became a budding canine naturalist, adapting seamlessly to the animals we met as we traversed the biodiverse nature trails of the El Yunque National Forest on research forays with Cynthia, our close friend and expert forest ranger guide. Ricky was both fearless and manneredly, eyeing and sniffing vertebrates and invertebrates with equally dispassionate aplomb – for example, encountering a 6 foot ‘Culebron’ (Puerto Rican Boa) curled-up napping in the sun on El Portal’s elevated walkway, he stopped, sniffed politely, and then moved-on thoughtfully as he added yet another species to his rapidly expanding catalog of endemic tropical fauna …

As Ricky grew older, cautiously approaching his thirteenth year, along with old age came arthritic aches and pains and some other more severe problems. He developed cataracts in both eyes which inhibited his vision, especially at night. He suffered from hip dysplasia (a common Labrador breed ailment) and developed some fatty non-carcinogenic tumors on his belly – none of which affected his determination to perform his duties robustly, thus faithfully maintain his part of our partnership …

Ricky was blessed by the ministrations of a competent and caring veterinarian, Dr. Jose Sosa, who made house calls, an astonishing accommodation nowadays. Dr. Sosa gave Ricky complete check-ups, including blood work, every six months, attending to him with skillful sympathetic care whenever he was ailing, which sadly occurred more and more frequently as his handsome muzzle turned from black to gray …

Providentially, because I am a Korean War veteran, the Veterans Administration paid all of Ricky’s veterinary charges. After some minor bureaucratic debate, VA health care management happily concluded that service animals were to be considered as ‘ancillary prosthetic devices that ensure a handicapped veteran’s continuing mobility and well-being’ …

Alas, Ricky’s debilities worsened as each month went by. He became increasingly incontinent, resigned to wearing diapers – after a short period of adjustment, he accepted even this ultimate indignity with stoic composure – his hip dysplasia worsened to a point where he could no longer walk without extreme pain and the risk of collapse, and then, his stomach tumors became carcinogenic …

Dr. Sosa, who loved and admired Ricky for his plucky, silent stoicism and bravery despite all of his physical torments, advised us that ‘it was time to seriously consider euthanasia to end his debilitating agony’ …

By this time, Ricky had been taken to Dr. Sosa’s veterinary hospital and was residing in the hospital’s ‘hospice’ section …

As I scratched Ricky behind his wonderful floppy ears, and stroked his massive neck for the last time, his handsome head in my lap, his intelligent, trusting eyes locked on mine – did I see a final flash of understanding there as I squinted with all the power I could summon from my few remaining optic nerves, or was it just my imagination?

At a nod from me, Dr. Sosa pushed the plunger on the syringe, administering the drug through the catheter, and suddenly, my beloved partner’s eyes dimmed, and he was gone …

I will never consider replacing Ricky with another canine partner – in my mind he is absolutely irreplaceable …

© 2011, 2017 Alan Mowbray Jr.

Well, that’s it for now – hope you liked the nonsense rhyme and found the ending of ‘A Symbiotic Relationship heartfelt and not too mawkish …

Lord willing, I’ll be back in touch soon with Turkey Tales #2 – until then best wishes and God bless …

 

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3 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 63

  1. Rose says:

    Hi Alan,
    I remember Ricky well, and was quite touched by your relationship with him. I am wiping my eyes now, as tears come unbidden, and recall the unique relationship which was yours and his.
    I marvelled at the symbiotic relationship you had with him. Ricky was a gentle giant. I never heard of his last days, or of the ultimate love you had for him, by letting him go. I envision Ricky these days of being a playful dog, running and jumping, oblivious to his size, his working days over, enjoying his retirement.
    Thank you for sharing this story, even though you made me cry.

  2. mkhulu says:

    El Capitan,
    Super tribute to your faithful friend. Brought a tear to my eye. Unique dog. One of a kind man.

  3. Christine says:

    Really enjoyed reading this Alan!
    Loved each story!
    You described her to a T!
    I’m so glad we got to meet her when
    You and Pam were here. Such wonderful memories gor us!
    Love to you both
    Christine

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