By: Maia Scott
In September of 2012, I learned that my nine year old golden guide dog Tessa had a very aggressive form of cancer. Almost a month to the day, she passed away up in the mountains in my mother's arms. It was all so fast and devastating, it physically hurt. One moment, England, Yosemite, the world at the end of a harness and the next, an empty little fleece in the corner of my room and an apartment that echoed with booming silence. I lost myself in my woes.
Back at work after a week off to grieve, I returned to face my coworkers and clients. I posted a letter so I wouldn't have to tell the story all the time. Even so... “Where's Tessa?” I ended up repeating myself at least five to ten times a day, depending upon how many clients I had on my massage table and how many people asked outside work. At the start, I felt awkward sharing the news, expecting to be alone in my grief when I should be taking care of my clients.
To my surprise, I ended up having to offer my clients support. When many of them learned of Tessa's passing, they teared up, cried, caught their breath...and often expressed embarrassment at getting upset when it was my loss. I did not feel slighted as I learned the loss was not mine alone. In fact, with each person who grieved Tessa with me, I felt something warm welling inside. Gratitude filled me, reinforcing the Tessa shaped hole in my heart with stays of strength and stability. I began to realize my guide dog didn't just enhance my own life - she made an impact on people I never expected.
In addition to my clients, Tessa's gentle presence, coy ways, sweet little doe face, and melty brown eyes burrowed into the hearts of people I barely took time to notice. For example, there was the checker at the hardware store who sniffled and flapped her hands in front of her as I set my purchases on the counter a couple months later. “I still can't believe she's gone!” The manager at TJ's sent me home with flowers when I came in to shop without Tessa.
Then there's the streetcar driver who held up her busy train to lean out the window and tell me how much she missed seeing Tessa on board. “Having her on here brightened my day. She made me feel so warm and happy.” The driver went on to say Tessa was so sweet and gentle and such a good dog... Many a bus driver and rider asked me about Tessa and expressed their sadness to know she's gone.
At eleven o'clock at night after seeing a musical downtown, my mother and I waited to cross a busy street. “Where's your dog?” asked a deep and soulful voice from nearby. We turned to find out who asked and came face to face with a man in a wheelchair who frequents the neighborhood in the hopes of collecting some change. I, like so many others rushing to and fro, learned to forget he was there in an effort not to feel the sting of others' situations. But he did not forget Tessa. I thanked him for asking and told him she passed. Like others who felt the blow of the news, he curled his shoulders in and covered his heart. “I'm really going to miss her.” He said in his slow and quiet way.
It amazed me, the kaleidoscope of people touched by this little Golden I assumed was mine alone. Tessa's abundant love and excellent guide work taught me a lot about life. I didn't expect losing her would exemplify one of the most important lessons of all. We are all interconnected and even the little things can make a big difference. Indeed Tessa was trained to guide a blind person through life. She certainly offered guidance of many sorts, enhancing my life and the lives of so many along the path.
Here's to guide dogs and the big jobs they do – bigger than anyone can imagine.