He was a bundle of energy as a puppy and full of mischief and delight as he grew. Everyone took to our Australian Shepherd, Izzo, named for a cartoon character my son created. He acquired various nicknames throughout his life, including “Beanie”, shortened from “Beanie Baby Burglar”, adept as he was at sneaking into a bedroom to return gently holding his “prey”, a soft and squishy frog or monkey.
Aussies always need to have a job to do and Izzo was no exception. As our children grew, Izzo embraced his “job” of herding their friends, rounding up company in the kitchen and mastering the ability to jump six feet straight up in the air from a standstill.
When we brought him home a new puppy, he was simply enchanted. He nuzzled her, he nipped at her heels to herd her and every night he groomed her. We never saw one without the other and our little Bichon soon learned that Izzo needed to be first out the door after she was trampled more than once. He was patient with her when she took his toys and they worked as a team to accomplish challenges like pulling the garbage bag out of the can for exploration.
Izzo spent his days running through the yard, protecting his kingdom from passersby and sitting regally at the top of the driveway watching over the schoolchildren walking home. Everybody seemed to know our house by our lion-like sentry with his little white assistant by his side. His most valuable job came, however, when I got sick.
I became very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. I took to bed a couple days a week as a result of one medication. My provider encouraged me to walk, move, to do anything I could to gain more function. The fatigue I experienced was overwhelming and I could not motivate myself to get up for anything. Izzo watched me and decided to take on a new job—one of my caregivers.
There was a lot of experimenting with my medications and I had to stop working so I was home most of the time. My faithful companion followed me from room to room watching my every move and I gradually realized his intentions. He reminded me when it was time to take a walk. He gently nudged me with his wet nose and said please with his eyes. “Please let me out.” “Please take me for a walk.” “Hey, it’s time to feed me.” I got stronger and stronger as he persisted. He could literally walk forever and little by little I joined him, step by step.
He let me know if someone was at the door so there was no need to fix our broken doorbell. He rested his head on my lap for comfort. He brought me a toy now and then so we could play fetch. He made me laugh when he would bicycle his ticklish leg with a belly rub. He stood over me when I was doing my morning stretches on the floor, checking that I was okay and then lay nearby as my sentry. At dinnertime, he spoke to me in near intelligible words and would disregard his aging body and jump up on the couch if he heard someone bold enough to take a walk by our home. Saying his bark was worse than his bite would definitely be an understatement. After a good long sniff, he became a noodle, rolling over so a stranger could rub his belly and he relished long luxurious petting sessions with his people. Every once in a while he would bestow a grin on someone, letting out his soft chuffing noise.
Beanie literally walked me through the worst months of my rheumatoid arthritis. I cherished our time together especially toward the end. His six-foot jumps had caused his own arthritis, damaging his spine so severely he had to sit down in reverse, front legs first. The pain must have been excruciating but he didn’t shirk from his duties. Our walks became simply a few steps on the sidewalk until he was too weak to continue. He loved the process so much this was enough for him. He became even more attentive to my whereabouts and actions as aging and medications stole his hearing and he had to follow hand signals instead. When the time came and his suffering was unbearable to watch, he still didn’t give up. He fought his way into heaven perhaps hoping to stay a while longer with his family.
Izzo gave me a great gift--motivation. He pushed and prodded until I responded and because of him, I’m much better off than I was when I first became ill. I’m not suggesting that anyone buy a dog to guide you through a serious illness, as there are many other considerations when you raise a pet. If you are lucky enough to have an Izzo, however, I recommend you try to pay attention to him. He may just know what’s best for you.