NITTANY: A SCHIPPERKE’S STORY
Nittany loved every minute of the days we volunteered. She even knew which days we would go. On those days, she would get her leash and carry it to the front door; just sitting there, waiting for me to catch up to her.
she was chest deep in water before she even realized she was wet. She tried to run fast enough so that she would walk on the water instead of walking through it. She grumbled, and was a “cranky butt” all the way home and during her bath to wash the pond water off of her. When my husband retired, we made the decision to return to Camp LeJeune where I would have all the resources that Wounded Warrior could provide. It didn’t take long for everything to be scheduled and started—and Nittany was right in front of everything. Part of my treatment plan included volunteer work with other vets. Nothing strenuous, just helping to write letters, reading out loud to them, and sometimes, just listening to them. After the first week, I was volunteering in the Traumatic Brain Injury ward. There, something amazing and miraculous happened. Patients who weren’t responding to human interaction were responding to Nittany! When we placed her on their lap or in the bed with them, she was so patient while working with them, nosing their hands over and over until she got through to them. In a matter of weeks, she became their rock star. And it wasn’t just with the patients. It was also with the staff, family members, and other volunteers. Nittany loved every minute of the days we volunteered. She even knew which days we would go. On those days, she would get her leash and carry it to the front door; just sitting there, waiting for me to catch up to her. She was definitely where she was sup- posed to be, doing what no one else had been able to do. And she was so happy. On a cold day in January two years ago, we said goodbye to Nittany Bear. We had all gotten together to celebrate the four birthdays that were in January and Febru- ary, one of which was Nittany’s. We went
to dinner, and had cake. One of my friends made a special cake, just for Nittany. When we woke the next morning, I knew immediately that something was wrong. Nittany wasn’t in the bed or in any of her beds in the bedroom. When I got up to look for her, I noticed puddles where she had been sick. We both called to her, but she didn’t answer or come into the room. Tony went to find her while I cleaned up the mess from room to room. Finally, I heard Tony call me from the guest room, and I went to try to coax Nittany out so that she wouldn’t think she was in trouble. As I reached the room, Tony was attempt- ing to lift her and she screamed with such a sound that it made my soul shrink. Tony gathered her up and went to the emergency vet while I cleaned the house waiting to hear the news. Nittany had suffered a stroke, and all the vet could do was help her go to sleep and end the pain she was in. An hour later, Tony returned with her wrapped in her favorite quilt. She looked so peaceful. And just like that, the amazing soul that had reached down and redeemed mine was gone. Wrapped in her favorite quilt, “Hammie” with her, we laid her to rest. My heart shattered into a million pieces. I still cannot believe how big a hole there is in my heart and soul from the loss of such a little ball of fur. In the weeks that followed, I started receiving sympathy cards from staff, friends, and family at Wounded Warrior. The reserve unit up home where we buried her sent me a shadow box with her name and rank engraved on the plaque, along with a flag and her chevrons. I sent it to my mother, where it sits on the mantle beside my father’s. I still keep expecting to see Nittany when I first wake up, only to realize again that she passed on to a better place where she is at peace. My heart still hurts.
I had already secured a position at a small university, and Nittany made herself right at home in my classroom. The novelty of a service dog on campus wore off quick- ly as my students adjusted. She and I set- tled into a routine, and with her help, I got comfortable teaching and living as normal a life as possible. We flew home to see Bubba graduate, and tried to convince him to come to Bos- ton with us. He chose to stay in North Car- olina though, with promises to come visit for holidays. Nittany kept looking back at Bubba when we got to the airport. He was her favorite, and here we were leaving him behind once more. She whined and pouted the entire flight back to Boston. October brought all kinds of excite- ment for Nittany. It snowed. Nittany had never seen snow, let alone played in it. The only difficulty was that she had to wear protective booties to prevent the chemi- cal used to melt the snow from making the pads of her feet bleed. She definitely didn’t like them. The minute she got out- side and saw the snow, she was amusing. The snow was deeper than she was tall! The maintenance crew shoveled the sidewalks, the doggie potty area, and parking lots. Instead of walking where they had shov- eled, she jumped straight up and into the drifts of snow. All you saw was snow flying up in the air, and occasionally, a little black dog imitating a kangaroo popping up and out of the snow banks. She definitely loved the snow. In the spring, we started taking her to a large park to see other dogs and to get some exercise. I didn’t think, however, about the local wildlife. For the first time, Nittany came face-to-face with Canadian geese, ducks, and swans. While the birds were accustomed to dogs in their park, they still walked very slowly away and into the water. Nittany was so intent on them, wanting to get as close as possible so that
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