When a dog guide dies:
The legacy of Frisco, a dedicated and special dog guide and friend to the end
by Clarence Schadegg
Since the death of Frisco, my first dog guide, on the 7th of May 2008, I learned something of particular importance. Even in old age, Frisco was not a pet but he lived, retired and died as a dog guide.
I was often told by instructors who taught me how to work with my dog guide as well as by fellow dog guide users that a helper dog like Frisco was an extension of the person it guides. We became a team, a partnership and a synchronized unit. The ability for the dog to work effectively with a master took time, approximately two years. Once the dog and master truly connected and our interaction became fluid and spontaneous, it was clear a deep connection took hold between us. I put my trust in the dog to get us safely to wherever we went. Frisco trusted me to give clear and consistent communication, to feed him well, to play with him and to allow him equal time off-duty to that of work. Routine yearly veterinarian care was an important part of this process.
I had no idea when I got him in 1995 that Frisco would work for more than nine years, or live for almost 15 years. He was ready for retirement at 10½ years, but he had several more years to live as a dog guide in retirement.
As I reflect on what Frisco did over the more then nine years of his exceptional guiding, I realized how special he was.
Some dogs become traumatized when attacked by large aggressive dogs that roam loose. Not Frisco. He fought off five such attacks in eight years. He wasn't hurt in any of these attacks and his ability to continue to work was an example of his character, stamina, endurance and determination.
In 2004, several of us who use dog guides testified before the Minnesota Senate, a session that was videotaped. We requested stronger law enforcement and protection for dog guide users from unprovoked, unleashed and unsupervised aggressive dog attacks. The legislation was passed.
My dog guide guided me exceptionally well to and from work on hot summer nights and cold winter days.
For many years Frisco led me safely around open construction sites, barriers across sidewalks, parked cars, moving vehicles, on and off planes and buses and boats and cars.
He guided me to speaking engagements with my students in schools with children and young adults, church groups, among my students in university classes, college-level classes for people in prisons, committee meetings, and therapy sessions for people in recovery. He guided me on our vacations, to movies, state fairs, theatrical performances, and plays.
Frisco's size and demeanor was enough to thwart the decision of a fellow who attempted to rob us as he followed my wife and me to our home. He asked the question when he saw the dog, does your dog bite?
As a team we often educated taxi cab drivers who denied me a ride only because I used a dog guide.
Frisco got sick sometimes from the food people fed him, something that posed a lethal danger to the dog's life. On my way to work one morning, a concerned person told me my dog guide had discharged blood three times. I rushed him to the veterinarian who told me he was a very sick dog. My employer allowed me a week off of work to nurse Frisco back to health, forcing fluids in him, giving him antibiotics and other medications. It took Frisco a week to finally recover. This near-death experience of my dog guide taught me a valuable lesson, I'd do whatever I could to keep my dog guide healthy and safe, whether my dog guide was working or retired. I was vigilant about the food my dog ate. I often requested people to please not feed my dog as dog guides are oriented to one kind of food, only the food fed to the dog by its master.
In May, 2004, it was obvious to me Frisco was ready to retire. My wife and I decided to adopt Frisco. I got another dog guide from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Both dogs had four years together to play and socialize.
The decision to put Frisco down was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. I realized, however, his pain was far too serious and it was not fair to him to continue to suffer. The question I asked myself during the final months, weeks and days of his life was: am I keeping him alive for my benefit or for his? I had to accept the fact that Frisco's quality of life had deteriorated so much that he was in pain more often then not.. The Labrador Retrievers breed of dog will hide serious pain until the pain is too unbearable whereby the dog can no longer hide it. For Frisco to show his pain meant he was really hurting. My decision to put him to sleep was a decision I made for Frisco's benefit, though I was truly saddened to lose a partner, a companion and a special dog.
Frisco died on the front lawn of our home, an area where he loved to roam and lay. He left this world on a beautiful warm spring day amidst all of the smells and sounds and sights as he breathed his last on the soft green grass. After it was obvious he had died, I picked up his body and carried Frisco across our front lawn, his last walk across his favorite place of our home.
My wife and I felt Frisco was part of our family. He watched out for both of us. He would often seek us out to keep an eye on both of us.
My current dog guide went around the house in search of Frisco soon after his death. We're all adjusting to the change, the empty space in our house. Perhaps an important legacy to Frisco is how this dog touched the lives of so many people and creatures in so many positive ways. Trained at six weeks of age, Frisco was always a dog guide, even at the time of his death.