Six years ago yesterday, Doc exhibited unmistakable symptoms of a brain tumor. Having been through four surgeries myself to remove brain tumors there was no way I could put him through that. He would be so confused and in such pain... So six years ago today I held him in my arms as Dr. Plor gave him the injection to put him to sleep. Here is Doc's story:
My family always had a dog when I was a kid, so after I became deaf at age 39 I knew I wanted a hearing service dog. Not only could such an animal alert me to sounds I could no longer hear — doorbell, alarm clock, telephone, smoke alarm — but as a certified service animal he could go everywhere with me. No kennel bills!
In October of 1998, after six months of intensive sound-response and obedience training in Michigan, Doc flew in the cargo hold of a Delta jet to Baltimore, where my husband and I picked him up. Like a new mother, I held him — still shaking and scared from the flight — on my lap in the back seat of the car for the 60-minute drive home.
And so it began....
Doc and I worked with a regional trainer for several more months — we aced our exams and became an official team. For the next 12 years he alerted me to the assigned sounds and so much more. With Doc proudly wearing his cape, and his ID card in my pocket, we went to museums, hotels, stores, restaurants, hospitals, offices and many friends' homes; we travelled on trains, planes and buses together and he loved riding shotgun in my car.
He shared my joy in a fresh snowfall and trembled with me when I cried. He curled up on the hospital bed with me after neurosurgery. He was a charmer, so smart and funny. Friends and strangers were drawn to him. Those who knew him agreed that he was the best dog who ever lived — and he really was.
In 2004 I signed up for a two-week course in drawing and painting at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle. I was pleased with my current style and method of painting, but welcomed the opportunity to work without distractions for two solid weeks. I had no specific plans or goals for the class — only knew that I wanted to do something different. This was an opportunity to experiment, so I figured I would just go and see what happened. Doc, of course, went with me. Every day.
On the first day of class we were instructed to cover the studio tables with big sheets of brown craft paper to protect the surfaces from our messy supplies. I looked at Doc on the floor beside me and drew him on the brown paper. I had never enjoyed drawing. The color and texture of the paint turn me on. But drawing Doc was fun!
For the next two weeks that is just what I did. I experimented with different papers, pencils, charcoal, chalk, and water colors. I drew Doc life-size and on smaller scales, and I had a blast. About a year later I was ready to try to capture him in oils. The paintings went quickly and I often laughed out loud as I worked.
I also knew that I would outlive Doc and I wanted to record him so that I would have tangible evidence after he was gone. Thus began the series of paintings.
I lost Doc on November 15, 2011. Today, his paintings and a few drawings fill my home in Portland. Maybe I will paint him again. I will surely continue with the drawings.
During the years that I was painting Doc, I said that I was not a pet portrait painter. I could only paint Doc because of our bond. I still do not consider myself a pet painter. The idea of painting a dog that I don't know leaves me cold. But two other dogs I've met since Doc's death stole my heart.... I'm not done yet.