I knew I'd cry, I knew I'd miss Talos. I was completely unprepared for how much and for how long. For me, turn-in's are never easy, but with Talos, the dream Great Dane, it was unbearable. It all started out fine enough...
We were headed to Chris Greene Lake in Charlottesville, VA, where there's a terrific dog park. In hindsight, I think T knew something was up. Normally, he stands in the Element, watching out the back window. For this trip, he had his head right between the two front seats.
When we got to the dog park we let him go off and explore - which he wasn't so keen on doing. He stuck with us for the most part, wandering off a little now and then.
His brother, Gryphon, another service dog in training arrived with some Labradors from Service Dogs of Virginia.
Talos liked them just fine, but wasn't in the playing kind of mood. He wandered, then he'd hang close. Wander and cling, wander and cling. I don't know what I was hoping for, but it wasn't this. He was quite stressed: panting a lot more than normal (even for the heat), his pupils were huge, and he pooped twice. That's a stressed dog.
We hung out with Peggy, the Training Director, and the Service Dogs of Virginia dogs until dark. Finally when we couldn't see the lake anymore, we headed for the cars. This was the moment of truth for me.
I vowed not to cry in front of Talos. If he wasn't nervous enough already, that might put him right over the edge. I was pretty pleased with myself thus far - I'd managed to stay tear-free (no small feat, I might add).
We called Talos and showed him the correct vehicle to get into and he said emphatically: NO WAY. Not going. You can't make me. Which is all true, of course. He's 160 pounds - you can't move him if he doesn't want to move! We tried everything, but it was very clear that the more we tried to convince him, the harder he was fighting it. His stress level was rising - not good for any of us.
I now had to do the thing I so desperately didn't want to do. I had to take Talos to Peggy's house and leave him there. The best laid plans... It would have been so much better (for me) to put Talos into Peggy's vehicle, wave goodbye, and we'd both go our separate ways. I never -- ever -- want to leave a dog and walk out the door with them on the other side.
But guess what I had to do. And let me tell you how hard it was. I thought I wasn't going to be able to leave. I thought my feet wouldn't carry me out the door. And if I did make it out the door, I was certain I wouldn't make it to the car. Not with Talos on the other side of that door, wondering why on earth we'd forgotten to take him with us.
Before I had to do the unthinkable, though, we were able to spend about 30 minutes at Peggy's house with her, Talos, and the dogs (Gryphon and the two Labradors). Talos was more certain than ever that something was up. He was clingy and still panting despite the cooler temperatures after dark.
It felt like a dream to me. Or more accurately, a nightmare. I was sure I was going to wake up and be so relieved that I'd dreamed the whole thing. I kept waiting for that wake-up. And it never happened.
Obviously, I WAS able to walk out the door and leave him behind. I did do it. I managed to get to the car before the torrent of tears started. I cried the entire trip home. I cried that night. I cried the next night, and the next.
I have vowed to never raise a Dane again. I don't think my heart can take it. It's too painful when I have to let go. The next Dane will be a keeper. I can't go through the misery. Heck, I'm STILL IN the misery!
But each day is a new one. And Talos is adjusting (after a really rocky first night). He'll get into the groove of things and he'll be a superstar service dog. And I'll forever be attached to him no matter what. The pain is excruciating, but I have no choice but to accept it. It's what I signed up for when I brought him home on my lap 14 months ago.
Stay tuned, there will be more Talos posts - I've got a great Talos tribute video I'm working on. It's going slowly right now because turn-in is still a little raw for me. But give me a month or so, and everyone (including me) will be smiling when they see the video.