There was never an indication it was going to be anything other than a normal crazy Thursday in the Forsyth household. Braden had already walked out the door as I stumbled blindly down the stairs searching for coffee. Sean was in the shower, and Emma was grumbling as my husband BJ made her get out of bed and asked her what she wanted for breakfast. I told our cats, Zeus and Iris, one of the kids would get downstairs to feed them in a bit, and I let our dogs, Archie and Sophia, out the back door to take care of their morning business. No indication anything was wrong. I grabbed my coffee and started packing lunches as everyone began appearing downstairs. When Sean fed the dogs. Sophia, who was Sean’s autism service dog, didn’t seem all that hungry.
This had become an off and on issue with her. Sophia had been diagnosed with Lyme Disease earlier in the year. Eating wasn’t always her thing now. Sometimes she was hungry, sometimes she wasn’t. Lately she had a day where she wouldn’t eat, but then she was fine and ate as usual and ate great for weeks afterward. Since Sean goes to a special school for kids with autism, we told him to tell his teacher to give Sophia extra treats to make up for lack of breakfast this morning if she wasn’t going to eat, and sent him and Emma off to school.
Day went on normal as usual until just after 3pm, when Sean called me from school:
“Mom, Sophia is on the floor shaking. What do I do?”
I listened to him tell me her other symptoms, and immediately hung up and called our veterinarian. Thankfully they were able to get her in around dinnertime. We put her in the car and sped over.
Our vet practice is small and we have been with her for a number of years. She took one look at Sophia, and I could tell we were in trouble. She took no time drawing blood and getting the results back. It was actually a matter of minutes. She explained Soph was in kidney failure and she needed to be seen at the emergency vet as quickly as we could get her there. Sean screamed in agony and fell to the floor, knowing at that point he may likely lose his dog. At that point I had to pick both my dog and my teenager up and get them in the car, driving as fast as I could to that other vet. I just wanted to save my girl. My baby needed her.
It was a long night. Five hours of waiting. Sitting in the lobby watching this beautiful dog that had protected my son suffer in a helpless heap on a freezing cold floor. It was such a helpless feeling just sitting there waiting at times. You just wanted to scream at a doctor to help save her. In fact I did go up to the desk and let them know my son was on the verge of an autism meltdown because he couldn’t stand the wait and seeing his dog deteriorating right in front of his eyes. It just us got a moved to an exam room where no one came until Sophia vomited all over the floor, and I had to flag a tech down to help us.
Finally, at 11pm, and after Sean and I had just been waiting in the lobby for who knows how long while Soph was being examined, the doctor came and gave us the news: Sophia was in irreversible kidney failure. Her Lyme Disease had caused Lyme Nephritis, which as a Labrador Retriever, she was predisposed to getting. The doctor said they could treat her, but it would only just give her a few weeks more to live. I called BJ to bring Braden and Emma down to the hospital, and our family said goodbye to Sophia.
Sophia was not a pet, and she was never treated as such. Sophia was Sean’s autism service dog. We had to get a prescription from a psychologist to have permission to get her, and an organization trained her specifically to detect anxiety and agitation in Sean, to calm and disrupt it, and also to track him and to prevent wandering and bolting. Sophia also attended school with Sean from third grade until his current grade of eighth grade, and de-escalated his anxiety and agitation throughout the day and prevented him from acting out. Sean himself had to train long hours with Sophia, even though he was only a small child himself at the time. He passed the Canine Good Citizens test with her at the age of eight, even though it wasn’t required for them to be a service dog and handler. They did it anyway for the extra practice. That was Sean and Sophia. They went above and beyond and made their mark.
In her short seven years of life, Sophia pioneered herself into a local school district, raised massive awareness about autism and the laws about service dogs, inspired others to raise money and awareness, helped too many other families to count, and changed the life of one very special boy. Before she came into Sean’s life, we had a little boy who had 3-hour long meltdowns. As soon as Sophia walked into our house, they were over in minutes. Sean doesn’t bolt much anymore. He is gaining the capacity to verbally express his feelings now. He may never be able to do it fully, but she was a big part of teaching him to start. She taught him how to be more social and how to start a conversation just by dragging him to the nearest human and being adorable. She gave him the capacity to love something more than anything on this earth, like we moms love our kids. She gave him more than I can possibly list.
I could go on about service dogs, the legalities, how awful Lyme Disease is (please check your pets for ticks and medicate them, especially if you have a Lab or Golden Retriever!) But this blog needs to be about a boy and a dog. As a mom, to see this incredible bond up close was a true privilege. To see my son’s pain right now, to hear his screams of agony as he lost his best friend and protector was unbearable. As a family we are truly lost. We do not know where we go from here. We know we will get Sean another dog in time. Sophia and the love she gave so selflessly paved the way for that. But for now, we honor her.
Run free Soph. We are so thankful for the short time we had with you. Thank you for all you did for Sean. Thank you for making us a better family. Thank you for being you.