My Service Dog Taught Me How to Live Despite Having Cancer

As I remember my wonderful service dog, Sita, and honor her life, I want her to know that she not only taught me how to live, but also how to die gracefully.

I lost my loyal companion and soulmate recently, who was at the age of 17. My hearing ear dog, Sita, has been at my side for 14 glorious years. I made her the star of two books and countless articles. We flew all over the country together doing programs about service dogs.

When I was a counselor for seven years, she switched her mode to a therapy dog, consoling the children who had often been abused and neglected. She attended all my classes at a community college for 10 years, often calming nervous students taking a test.

It became obvious to me she was in a lot of pain from arthritis when I made the ultimate decision to free her as I watched the light and joy diminish from her amber eyes. She could no longer take walks, run over the playground she loved, and was falling frequently. I truly feel she was pushing on for me because she knew I would have a hard time without her.

Sita has taught me about the purest love. She was forever patient, even in the airport when we would have seven-hour delays! She never held a grudge if I accidentally stepped on her, and did not judge anyone. When we attended church, she approached every single person for pats on the head.

To the very last day, she did her job. If someone approached me, she would get up with tremendous effort and bump me to let me know they were there.

As a cancer survivor, perhaps one of the most important lessons she taught me was her last one. I constantly turn to look for her as I remember how she jumped up and down to go with me every day, sometimes snatching my car keys out of the container and bringing them to me.

My cancer is worsening, and I am thinking more about my mortality. I never married or had children and ponder if I will be remembered when I am gone. Of course, I will continue to fight and hope for new treatments all the time!

Sita never talked but had the sweetest expression on her gentle face. I loved her unconditionally, but now I realize how many others did too.

Almost 300 people commented on Facebook when I posted about her going over the “Rainbow Bridge.” Some of my former students shared pictures of her in class! I have received many cards and gifts from people remembering her and how she influenced all of us.

I was a former children’s librarian and did many programs where I would tell stories about dogs, and then demonstrate how she alerted me, picked up my keys if I dropped them, and stayed professionally in her work vest until I released her to go circulate with the participants.

Former clients, now all grown up, remember how she soothed them when they were kids. When I enter restaurants without her and explain she is gone, the workers start tearing up because they loved her. Sita, who never uttered a word, has left a lasting legacy with her gentleness.

I can only hope that if and when my time comes, I will leave happy memories for people of good times, happy lunches and dinners, small gifts, cards sent and much laughter. I may not have the legacy of children but hope to be remembered for the positive things I did.

Unlike Sita, I am able to talk, and hope my words of encouragement to family and friends will be forever remembered. My beloved dog taught me not only how to live, but how to die gracefully. Rest in peace Sita, because you deserve it!

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