Family History · Labradors and Friends

A Tale of Dale

How does one tell a story about an old, blind, rambunctious dog like Dale? I guess we start at the beginning, at least, the beginning for us.

Our “mini-Lab” Maggie was 12 & 1/2, and taking the stairs a little more slowly. Maggie enjoyed time with our recently married daughter’s dog Ivy, so we thought it might be time to add a friend for Maggie. We thought a puppy was too much work, so we were thinking of a slightly older dog, hopefully Maggie’s size or smaller. Of course it would be a rescue dog–that’s just what we do at Hibbard House!

Mr. H. saw a post for Dale, a big chocolate Lab whose owners had turned him into the pound when he developed a genetic eye disease that causes blindness in elderly Labradors. As my mom had macular degeneration and was legally blind for several years, we thought we could handle and help an old blind dog. We had a lot to learn!

Since Dale was a “special needs” dog, Atlanta Lab Rescue allowed him to make a few visits to our house before coming here permanently. He and Maggie got along fine at first; she was used to doggie friends visiting. Maggie was annoyed with us when she realized “That Dale Dog is here to stay.” Maggie was as concerned as I was about Dale’s size, more than twice her weight and more that half of mine–Dale could knock either of us sideways. Eventually, Dale learned to stop his “charge!” through known parts of the house when we ordered “Don’t bump/step on Maggie!” His quick stops and sometimes hairpin turns, always followed by sniffing to figure out where she was, were awfully funny to watch.

We had many silly moments with Dale, days when he discovered snow, the smell of apples in all its forms, the smell–and taste!, of flowers. Dale learned to sit and stay for food and “snacky-snacks,” his favorite part of the day. Dale was the texting star of Georgia Gives, two years in a row (see the picture with the blue tablet, his having just “donated” to AMIS, Inc.). Dale wore any dress-up clothes proudly, whether it was a cowboy hat for Halloween, antlers for Christmas, a scarf around his neck or a silly bow from discarded wrapping. Dale wore them with pride, like he knew it meant he was loved. Dale enjoyed car trips, he and Maggie would “share” the back seat, occasionally one of them landing in the floor. Most of all, Dale loved walking with Mr. H., afterwards pretending to climb in our laps in the den, giving us lots of “dog kisses.” Then he would plop down on the rug, contentedly asleep, blocking our exit. After all, when Dale stretched out, he was the size of a large coffee table.

We hadn’t thought there was much of an attachment between Maggie and Dale, more of a parallel relationship. They would grumble and growl over room in the car, then go to sleep, Maggie usually with the best position, but not always. Only on our last few car trips did they snuggle. On walks, Dale would bump sideways into Maggie, seemingly on purpose, but neither of them liked being walked separately. Maggie stole snacks meant for blind Dale whenever she could, which was often. Both Dale and Maggie hated storms, but Dale was terrified of them, even hiding in the bathroom sometimes .

When Maggie didn’t come home with us Wednesday (see previous post, “Maggie’s Story”), Dale didn’t seem to notice at first. We didn’t know if he heard us carry her out the door when we took her to the vet; he’s old, blind and sleeps a lot, after all.

Thursday and Friday, Dale realized Maggie was missing. He searched around sniffing, and noticed her bed was gone. He was hesitant to come in the den, but in the kitchen, he would put his big head on my lap and slobbered on my leg. Dale barked as usual when Mr. H. came home and had a nice walk (pull to the left, pull to the right) and a good dinner. He went to sleep a bit early, stretched out long like a big puppy, shortly after retreating to the laundry room, which we’ve come to call “Dale’s Den,” his favorite deep-sleep place.

Saturday morning, Mr. H. came down to find Dale awake, stretched on his tummy with his elbows out, in front of the kitchen sink, not sleeping soundly like an old bear in the laundry room. Dale thumped his tail when I came in. He would not get up to go outside, common behavior if he were sleepy, but he was awake. When he did get up for us, his back legs fell out from under him and he laid back down, exhausted. We called the vet as soon as they opened, rolled Dale onto a beach towel, and somehow got him inside the car.

Dale’s prognosis, as a Labrador who was at least twelve, was not good. Mr. H. and I sat on the floor with Dale as he was given anesthetic before the euthanasia drug, but Dale was almost asleep anyway. We both cried as we petted our Dale dog.

Sunday afternoon we had tickets to Atlanta Symphony. We didn’t feel much like going, but didn’t want to waste good tickets. There was a lovely Bernstein flute solo I thought Dale would have enjoyed–he always liked to listen to classical music in the car and he enjoyed pieces as I prepared for music classes. Dale would sing along, almost on key, with children’s songs as I reviewed them. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, was played after intermission. It was one of Dale’s favorites except for the two Allegros (the Village Gathering and the Thunderstorm), which sometimes made Dale howl or hide in the bathroom. Dale loved the cheerful Allegro non troppo, the brook Andante molto moto and the Shepherd’s thankful Allegretto. How good it was to remember those times when the big dog sang in his falsetto howl.

Almost four years was not enough for us, as almost 16 years was not enough for us with Maggie three days before. We never knew there was such closeness between the two dogs–as Maggie watched out for Dale and Dale bumped into her, but tried to be careful, there was attachment we humans didn’t understand. As Dale crossed the rainbow bridge two weeks ago, I’m sure Maggie was waiting, tennis ball in mouth, and this time, Dale could see the ball and play.

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