You know those things that are really hard to face, and you are just unsure of how to face them? Sometimes, I feel that way when I talk about Errol. Yes, I’ve talked to you all about Errol on occasion, but most of the time, I talk about Joba. However, today, I want to share Errol’s story with you. It’s not an easy story, and it’s definitely not one that I like to write. I still have a very vivid memory of him, the good times, the bad. And unfortunately, the night he left me is very clear in my mind as well. I will talk about that dark time in my life, but I want to start at the beginning of Errol’s story.
Errol, a beautiful black lab with an adorable face and big brown eyes, was born October 27, 2005 in the kennels of the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey. I do not know who his parents were, but as he grew to be eight weeks old and was old enough to leave his mother, he moved to a family’s home in Pennsylvania. This family had a little boy with Down syndrome. Because of this, Errol attended many Special Olympics games and was conditioned through that experience to adore children. His love of children never went away, and I am sure he loved that little boy to pieces. After about a year, Errol went back to training at the school and made it into the program. However, he was not immediately placed with a guide dog user as they were trying to find a perfect match. Then, I came along.
Because he wasn’t placed right after finishing his training, he was already two and a half when I met him. Most of the dogs are one and a half when they are placed. I knew there was something special about Errol, but being only a teenager, I didn’t cherish it like I should have. I expected so much from him, and I never failed to let him know when he wasn’t working up to my standards. But Errol always wanted to please me. If he knew he was wrong, you could tell by the look in his face. When he did the right things, oh wow did that tail wag.
Errol was such a cheery dog. He would play with or talk to anyone, and the person he most adored was my mother. She could always make him talk. The sound, his talking, was very unique. It was sort of a low groan mixed with a whine or whimper, but if she would tell him to talk to her, that was the sound he made. I think some of his favorite things to do was go for leisurely walks without the harness and play ball in our fenced-in backyard. The thing he loved most was children. If there was ever a child nearby, he would start walking faster and try to get to where the child was. His relationship with other dogs was interesting as he was always interested initially in them but would then ignore or growl at them if they kept coming closer. Maybe he wasn’t always crazy about other dogs, but he was very affectionate with people.
I don’t want to say that Errol never wanted to work. His work overall was fabulous, but it was the initial thought of work that would often lead him to hide from the harness. He was a very slow walker, and even though this sometimes irritated me, it made me feel safe knowing that he was a very cautious dog. I think the things that he did the best on were street crossings and stopping at the edge of a curb or step in order for me to put my foot out there and find where to walk before giving him the command. He listened to commands well, but once he had a route in mind, that’s where he wanted to go. No one would change his mind. I guess you could say he had a stubborn streak.
In the year of 2012 was when things with Errol got interesting. It was around this time, in the middle of the summer of 2012, when he would sometimes decide not to eat his food. Now, if you have a lab, you know that they will eat anything, no questions asked. Errol was no different. He was excited when it was time to eat, and he gobbled his food right down. However, he suddenly decided he wasn’t going to eat. And then, the next day or even the next meal time, he was perfectly fine and would eat like normal. I have to say that, throughout his entire life, Errol had major stomach issues in which he would often keep me up all night cleaning up vomit. Seriously, it was like having a kid with the flu.
However, in the winter of 2012 was when his health problems increased. We found this lump or spot on his leg. We didn’t know what it was, and sometimes it would bleed. In October was when it got really bad, and I had to keep it rapped for a few days and hope it wouldn’t bleed while we were at school. When we took him to the vet, I was unable to go with him. I had a convention to attend, and I was in school. This left the responsibility up to my dad. My dad said that the vet looked at the lump and said it could be skin cancer. Errol came back to Lincoln with me that week, and we had no end of trouble with that leg which was constantly bleeding and needing to be rapped again because Errol had managed to get it loose. The next week, Errol stayed in Milford with my parents to have that spot on his leg removed. I didn’t realize there was anything truly wrong with him until I arrived home that next Friday night.
I didn’t understand why my parents were so quiet and upset. When we got home, Errol walked over to greet me. I sat down on the floor to pet him because that’s what he loved, and that’s when my mom started to explain the seriousness of Errol’s situation. He had cancer. I already knew that. But hadn’t the vet said they could just remove the spot and he’d be fine? At least, that’s what I remembered. But when the vet went to lift Errol onto the table, he noticed bruising where he had lifted him up. That’s when he knew. Errol was bleeding internally. I can still remember the words. “He’s sick, Charli. He’s very sick”.
I wanted to deny it. No, he was fine. He would be. My vet was good. He could make my puppy well again. So, I held out hope. However, the following Tuesday, November 6, day of elections, I made the decision to put my beloved Errol to sleep. Things simply were not improving for my baby. The vet said that we could keep him on the steroids he was on and he would look at him on Thursday. Or, we could take him down to Kansas and have a $3000 blood transfusion. I wanted to try and save him so bad, but I kept asking, what if it didn’t work? What if we spend all that money only to have him get better for a while and then slip right back to where he was? Plus, he was already seven. I had already decided in my mind that he would be done working. And then there was the fact that he was getting to the point where his breathing became labored, and he wouldn’t take his pills or eat any food. He was slowly fading from me, and worst of all, I wondered, was he suffering? I decided that putting my precious guide dog to rest was the best thing for him.
I remember sitting in the car, Errol between my sister and I as our family drove to the Seward Animal Hospital. We were all crying are eyes out, calling family members and friends and telling them that Errol had to be put to sleep. And I, I just kept petting him, stroking his fur. That’s when I felt it. It may have been my imagination, but Errol’s chest seemed to be rising and falling rapidly, almost as if he was crying too.
Leaving him there at the vet after hugging him and telling him that he was a great dog was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and nothing, no hugs or words of encouragement, could take away that physical ache I felt in my chest. It was as if Errol ripped a piece of my heart out and took it with him when he left. I felt so empty, so lost without him. Errol wasn’t coming back, and while I knew this from the moment we left the vet, it took a while for it to set in. But that’s when the story begins to get better. No, Errol didn’t rise up from his grave and come back to me. But I finally realized that I just had to go back and get another dog, and in June of 2013, precious Joba, four paws, licking tongue, and wagging tail came bounding happily into my life. No, he didn’t replace Errol. No one could ever replace Errol, and no third dog is ever going to replace Joba. However, Joba’s presence in my life helped me heal from the pain of losing Errol. I believe that’s why God gave me Joba, to help me move on, and to help remember the wonderful Errol for the dog he was. Now, Errol is hopefully playing happily with other dogs. He was joined last September by Princess Pearl, our 10-year-old Shih Tzu, so now they have each other. I will always cherish the time I had with Errol and thank God for the 4 and a half years we worked together as a team.