How Their Late Dog Provided Comfort

Izabelle, their golden retriever, dutifully watched over their daughter with epilepsy—even after Izabelle passed.

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- Posted on May 23, 2019

COURTESY ELIZABETH ZORICH-HARMAN

I woke at 5:45 a.m., my mind foggy with sleep. I should let the dog out. Then I remembered: Izabelle was gone.

We’d lost our beloved nine-year-old golden retriever to cancer just three days before. A good girl who never wanted to cause any trouble, Izabelle hadn’t let on that she was in any pain. We only discovered she was sick during a routine checkup. We had to put her down. We were all grieving, especially my 22-year-old daughter, Joanie. Five years earlier, Joanie had been diagnosed with epilepsy. She endured seizures, from minor to grand mal, which caused violent convulsions. It was terrifying for us as parents—and for her too.

But not for Izabelle. She had a gift. Even as a puppy, Izabelle had been remarkably calm. She didn’t even bark the first two years we had her. She’d never been trained as a therapy animal, but she assumed that role so naturally. While our Yorkie, Lucy, hid during Joanie’s seizures, Izabelle sat with our daughter until they passed, keeping Joanie calm. Joanie had a lot of seizures at night, so we set up a medical-grade camera in her bedroom. It had night vision and motion and sound sensors. We kept the monitor in our bedroom, volume turned up, so that we’d awaken if Joanie had an epileptic episode.

Izabelle insisted on sleeping in Joanie’s room. Whenever Joanie was jerked abruptly from sleep with convulsions, Izabelle was there. She sat beside her as Joanie rode out the smaller seizures. During the grand mal ones, Izabelle would position herself by Joanie’s door, facing the camera. She never barked, just thumped her tail rapidly, setting off our sensor and alerting us.

Izabelle calmed Joanie in a way that no human could. It comforted all of us that Izabelle was looking out for Joanie. I knew this dog had found her way into our family for this purpose. That she’d been heaven-sent. All pet owners say their animals are special. But in Izabelle’s case, we all knew it was particularly true. There will never be another dog like her, I thought. I wish she were still here…

I couldn’t go back to sleep. I glanced at Joanie’s monitor. Something caught my eye. I blinked. Was I dreaming? There was the usual scene: Joanie’s doorway, her bed, her sleeping form. The baby gate we had to keep Lucy from wandering in at night—she had a bad habit of chewing things she shouldn’t. And something else. The shape of a dog, sitting just behind the gate, facing the camera. Izabelle!

I snapped some photos of the monitor screen with my phone, then sprinted down the hall to Joanie’s room. There was the open door, the baby gate. But no Izabelle. The shape I’d seen was too big to be Lucy. And it was inside the gate—which Lucy couldn’t get past. The monitor doesn’t make recordings, so it couldn’t have been an old image.

Just my imagination, I thought. But when I opened my phone’s photos later that morning, there she was. Izabelle, as plain as day. I can’t explain what happened that morning. Maybe Izabelle knew that we needed her to comfort us. Good dog that she is, she once again came through. She let us know that, no matter where she is, she’s still dutifully watching over us. Joanie most of all.

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