48: Musket

48: Musket

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Musket

Dogs never lie about love.

~Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

A hereditary disorder reduced my sight to the point where I was considered legally blind. In 2002, I went to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California and trained to work with a dog.

That dog was Musket, a yellow Labrador Retriever. A very sweet, friendly and beautiful dog, Musket melted the hearts of everyone he met. The bond between dog and owner can take months to develop, but the bond between Musket, my wife Jane and her parents only took seconds.

After the graduation ceremony we were in the reception area together. Dad was on the floor with our new addition. “Look at Poppop, Musket, come on, look at me.” Mom cooed over him. “Are you Nanny’s good boy?”

Very soon Musket usurped Jane in her parents’ lives. Mom and Dad loved that dog. When we went to visit, Musket would run inside first while Jane and I waited outside to see how long it would take them to notice we weren’t there. Six minutes was about average. Even as Dad’s Alzheimer’s worsened and he failed to recognize friends, he never forgot Musket.

When out on drives, Musket rode in the back seat with Dad and me. Dad’s dementia resulted in tirades and random comments. But Musket, lying by Dad, calmed him. “Musket a good boy?” He said it at least a hundred times a day.

Dad fell often, and was increasingly agitated, as his Alzheimer’s worsened. Jane would pick me up at work so we could bring Musket to see him. Musket’s wagging tail and kisses calmed Dad immediately. Musket was allowed to lie on the bed, which elicited smiles from his Pop-pop. And when Mom was recovering from hip surgery, Musket went to see his Nanny, keeping her happy.

In 2009, after two years of caring for her parents, Jane made the hard decision to place them in a good nursing facility, which could care for both Mom’s mobility limitations and Dad’s Alzheimer’s. Mom could no longer care for her husband of sixty-one years.

Jane worried about how her father would react to being taken to the nursing home. But in the back seat between us sat Musket. Dad scarcely noticed where we were going. That dog made the potentially volatile and emotionally painful transition as smooth as silk.

Mom and Dad both settled in, making new friends, playing games and enjoying their well-earned retirement. Even Dad did well, meeting other WWII veterans with whom he could tell his well-worn war stories.

Just a month later Dad was rushed to the hospital with an aortic aneurism. There was no hope. Jane and her sisters went to see him, wheeling Mom in her chair. I wasn’t able to be there, but Jane had a small stuffed dog that she gave to her father while he lay dying. “Daddy, this is Musket,” she said, her voice trembling with sorrow. Dad held the toy and put it to his face. “My Musket. Musket gives me kisses.”

Over the next few days he slipped into a coma, still holding his Musket.

Jane and I rushed to see him when we received a call late one night. He was already gone, but Jane took Musket into the room where her father lay. In his hand was that same toy. Musket stood on his hind feet and gave his Pop-pop a goodbye kiss.

At the funeral a week later, Musket was there to comfort his Nanny and family.

We visited Mom every week. She always wanted to see Musket first. She introduced him to fellow residents and staff as “my good boy, Musket.” And everybody, young and old, who met him was touched by the shining brown eyes watching protectively over his Nanny.

On the table next to her bed rested the stuffed toy dog Dad had held for the last days of his life. In it she found solace in both his and Musket’s presence.

Musket was a great guide dog, a canine ambassador, setting an example of behavior and training. Yet that wasn’t his greatest gift. His gift was making sick, disabled, grieving, elderly people happy. Musket changed lives with his wagging tail, smiling face and loving heart.

If I were given the choice between being blind with Musket at my side or being sighted without him, I’d gladly choose the former. We have all been blessed with Musket.

~Mark Carlson

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