It was my buddy’s birthday and I invited him out for a round or two. We’re both long divorced. I could afford to splurge a little bit, knowing that my birthday was just two weeks off and I figured that Jimbo would reciprocate. We had a great time, ate what was bad for us and drank too much. We left El Gaucho’s around nine or ten. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t recall driving home. I fumbled with my keys and the alarm and stumbled to the kitchen looking for a screwdriver . . . the drink, not the tool. I drank half a glass of orange juice and must have passed out. The next morning I felt fine, but noticed that the bottle of vodka hadn’t been opened.
Diabetes runs rampant in my family. It killed my cousin, Bobby. I thought it skipped over me, but then it looked me up and attacked in my mid-thirties. I was one of those fools who thinks bad things never happen to me. Once I had it, I neglected to follow procedures. Glucose monitors didn’t mean much to me . . . and I still went out with my buddies and drank a little too much here and there.
I told Jimbo about the orange juice and the full bottle of vodka and he just looked at me. I laughed. He didn’t. Finally, he said, “It sounds like you had a hypoglycemia reaction. You’re maybe alive because you didn’t drink the vodka, but did drink the orange juice.” I scoffed and hung up the phone. A week later we went out again to celebrate my birthday. We were a little more subdued this time around.
After dining Jimbo told me about streaming a classic western on TV, “The Proud Rebel.” I had seen it before, probably with Jimbo, so I didn’t understand why he went into such detail. There was a scene where the neighbors run a couple hundred sheep through a rancher’s corn crop garden. Alan Ladd comes to the rescue by turning his sheep dog on the sheep and within minutes the sheep were rounded-up, cowering, and almost saluting the dog. We both laughed at the image and said, “King.” The dog’s real name. He was just called “the dog” in the movie.
After a couple of seconds I looked at Jimbo and shrugged my shoulders. Jimbo looked at me, smiled, and handed me a wrapped present. It looked like maybe a framed photograph. I thought, “I hope it’s not a photo of Jimbo.” We’re not that kind of friends.
I unwrapped the present. It was a photo, but not of Jimbo. I said, “It kinda looks like the sheep dog in “The Proud Rebel,” but I’m guessing a little bit larger. What am I missing?” Jimbo looked at me sheepishly, and said “You’re right. This is more like a combination of a collie and a sheep dog. Her name is Chloe and she’s my present to you.” I looked at him and said, “Are you crazy? I don’t need a dog and don’t want a dog. What am I gonna do with a dog?” Jimbo looked at me and said, “Live longer.”
Jimbo picked me up on Saturday morning and we drove across town. On the way out I was thinking of ways to ditch the dog in a nice way, but it turned out Chloe wasn’t just any dog. She was being trained as a service animal to detect blood sugar levels in diabetics, which of course meant me. I was stuck in three different ways. What galled me the most was that I would be reporting my behavior to an animal. I just knew the dog would be the boss of me. The second problem was that once I started figuring this all out I realized that this was no whim by Jimbo. Chloe must have cost him thousands of dollars. And thirdly I would have to actually try and stay healthy. Damn it!
We didn’t stay long. The trainers showed me what to do with the dog a bit and then everything changed. It was a good thing for them I wasn’t wearing a gun. When Chloe didn’t do something right, sniff and smell and warn me, they hit her with a stick. I couldn’t get her out and in the car quickly enough. By God, I thought if she’s here to protect me, then I will protect her, too. When Jimbo got in the car he told me he had a couple books about service dogs and diabetes. I sat in the back seat with Chloe who kept her head in my lap all the way home. Once home I thanked Jimbo profusely. I already had two doggie beds. One for my bedroom and one of the living room. Later I bought another for the kitchen and another for the garage. Perhaps a little overkill, but if Chloe was going to watch me, I thought she should be comfortable.
I was new to the service dog industry and new to Chloe. Although she traveled with me on airplanes, she laid down at my feet, and most of the passengers didn’t even knew she was aboard. Although I bought her all those doggie beds she didn’t need to be right next to me, she could detect blood sugar levels rooms away. Moving air and a good nose is all it really took. Once on a flight, Chloe became fidgety and kept looking at a fellow passenger. I had seen that look on her face before. I asked the stewardess if that particular passenger was having a problem with diabetes. She said she didn’t know and went to talk to the fellow flyer. When the stewardess bent down and talked to the passenger, it became clear that Chloe’s nose was a mutual gift to the world. The passenger was a little confused and needed her medication, but she didn’t know where it was. She was lucky that we were on the same flight. I motioned to the stewardess and suggested a glass of orange juice would probably help. You know, I could be wrong, but I remember Chloe nodding her head.
A few years later I found out just how lucky I was. Chloe was returned to the trainers when she didn’t meet another families expectations. She didn’t join me in the shower or on the toilet, but otherwise she spent about 98% of her time with me. We went everywhere together: work, movies, watching TV, going to hockey games . . . shopping and just being near each other. I don’t know that she actually loved me, but I know she loved the treats I gave her. I carried a small pouch with me, and inside were slices of pepperoni for rewards. She loved pepperoni. And, yes . . . she got two slices for helping the lady on the airplane.
Early one beautiful Saturday morning in summer, my blood sugar dropped exceedingly low. I was unresponsive to Chloe and the world in general. Her tries to alert me failed. I don’t think I even knew who she was. Piecing the story together from my neighbors, somehow Chloe got the kitchen door open and went over to our next door neighbor. She barked and howled but got no response. She then went to the neighbor on the other side. Ellen saw her from the kitchen window and waved at her, but went back to making biscuits. When Chloe kept up her barks and yips and running back and forth between our house and Ellen’s home, Ellen figured out there was a problem and rushed out and over to our backdoor. Soon I had the medical attention I needed. I think if I had attached a cell phone to her collar, Chloe would have called 911 for help.
Chloe wasn’t just a service dog. She was a friend and we did all the normal pet dog things together. We played fetch, she would weave between poles or cones I set up, she would jump and could even walk up and down a teeter-totter. Out in the real world Chloe wore a vest identifying her as a service animal, which she took very seriously, but at home she was free to be herself, while still alerting me when needed. You can’t really turn off your nose and the smells it knows and recognizes.
Chloe let me know when she wanted to retire. We had been almost brother and sister for eight years. When she was 10 years old, she started whining every time we got in the car. Wearing the vest meant work. It only took me a couple of trips to realize her work life was done. I shared my thoughts with Jimbo and we began looking for a new companion for Chloe and me. Jimbo and I found Moxie, another service dog fresh out of school. The scent training she picked up well enough from watching Chloe, who taught her almost everything else. She also learned how and when to alert me. It was shocking how quickly the two shared information and reactions. It was like they shared notes . . . and noses. Evidently they had the same tastes. Moxie loved pepperoni as well.
During this transition, I even got married. Both dogs approved of Robin, and she approved of the dogs. At the age on thirteen, Chloe left us. I still miss her. The funeral was small, just me, Robin, Moxie, and Jimbo. We went to Jimbo’s afterward for a remembrance gathering. We laughed, talked, told stories, and cried a little bit and then just before we put the DVD of “The Proud Rebel” in the player, delivery was made: two pizzas . . . with extra pepperoni on the side.