Tuesday, May 17, 2011

As I searched for the body of my service dog . . .

She was not responding to my calls. Enough time had passed that fear of the two dogs who had bullied her into panicy flight would have subsided enough for her to seek me. She'd not been alone this long since she was 7 months old and she needed me almost as much as I needed her. I knew it was time to start combing the underbrush, looking for an unconscious or dead body.  

As I pushed my way through the underbrush, fighting for balance and footing on the steep, slippery slope of the riverbank, fighting against despair, fighting to keep my calm, I hoped that perhaps she was less badly injured but further away -- that she was limping her way back to me slowly. I fought to hold that hope until the train whistle sounded in the distance and then I fought to control my tears and panic as I realized she might follow or have to cross the tracks on which that train approached.

Until the train whistle, my search for her had been remarkably well thought out, thorough, and calm. I suffer from treatment-resistant bipolar disorder and an alphabet soup of anxiety disorders (OCD, GAD, PTSD). Despite or, more likely, because of my mental illnesses, I am a person you want to be with in a crisis.  When the World Trade Center tower next door to our building was hit by the terrorist-piloted airliner, my survival instincts kicked in.  I got myself and my boss out of the city in record time, obtaining and carrying water along the way in case we got stranded, and avoiding well-known landmarks like Times Square, the Empire State Building and Penn Station that might be attractive targets.  My boss, a very intelligent, level-headed ex-army veteran in his fifties freely admits that he was overcome by the shock of the attack and would not have been able to lead me out as I did him.

The woman who owned the dogs which had caused the problem was falling apart emotionally.  She insisted on helping me search, but was not functioning well enough to be effective. I had to reassure her that WHY the event had happened was not important, that I didn't blame her or her dogs, and that finding Maeve was the only thing of importance.  I sent her on ahead on the fast and easy path through the fields so she wouldn't see me quartering the wooded area by the river, searching for Maeve's body.  Inwardly I laughed humorlessly at the "disability" of those not so accustomed to fear and trauma.

The train whistle cut through distance well.  It was audible long before the train would arrive.  This section of track went through a small Connecticut city and then cut across a number of country roads, so it would never move fast towards my location.  This was good for Maeve's chances, if she were coming back along the tracks or trying to cross them, but bad for my concentration.  I couldn't get the image of Maeve frozen on the tracks out of my mind until I yelled out the word "No!" several times.

I finished combing the most likely location for Maeve to have ended up unconcious or dead and began walking the trail through the woods.  Maeve is a fabulous trail dog and that's a big part of why I have her as a service dog.  She always knows where the trail is and picks the trail most travelled whenever she comes to an intersection.  She had walked this trail before and I knew it was likely she would have followed it if she could.  The other thing Maeve is trained to do is to take me out of the woods and to my car in case my memory and attention problems get me into trouble.  I had checked the parking lot where the car was first and then again before I'd searched the wooded riverbank, hoping that the training had kicked in and she would head for the car.  

As I called Maeve, I kept the negative emotion out of my voice as much as I could.  I tried to sound happy and unworried so that she'd feel safe coming to me.  "Maeve, hey sweetie girl, let's go!"  I couldn't call her for a minute each time I heard the whistle.  I could picture her on the tracks, trying to get to me when the train came.  Each time I managed to push the image out of my mind and call her again.

Just before the train reached me, my cell phone went off.  My heart sank.  I'd told the other woman searching to call me if she saw Maeve.  This call might be her telling me she'd seen my dog.  Maeve might be on her way towards me and towards the train.

It wasn't her.  It was a person whose property bordered on the trail's parking area.  They had found Maeve cowering around their property, clearly frightened.  They'd managed to catch her and bring her inside.  Thank goodness I had a tag on her with my cell phone number!

I was so relieved.  I wanted to run back to the parking lot, but could barely walk after all the stress.  Maeve and I were so glad to see each other! We both got into the back of my van, her in her crate with the top open and I in the cot next to it, to recover together before hitting the road again.  

Lessons learned:
  • I need to trust the training I gave my dog and to trust my own intution.  I knew she'd go back to the car, I should have searched the woods around the parking lot, especially because the two canine culprits were in a car in that parking lot.
  • I need to remember how good I am in a crisis.  A psychiatric disability doesn't mean I'm not going to be the ablest person available in emergency situations.
  • I shouldn't assume dogs are Maeve-friendly just because their owner assures you they're good with other dogs.  I had Maeve on a lead and took it off so she could play with the "friendly" dogs.

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