If ever there was a dog that deserved an obituary, it was Miss Mona. As her owner, I’m going to attempt to summarize the 14 years we had with her. I think in today’s world of bad news, we all need a little light of goodness in our lives. Mona’s legacy showed how one dog, lumped into a category often unfairly labeled as dangerous, can spread so much love to a hurting world.

First Meetings

Vanslake’s Miss Mona was the daughter of Pepper (CH. Vanslake’s Queen Of Hearts CD, NA, NAJ, CD, CGC) and CH. Vanslake’s Black Label. She lived the first four years of her life with her breeders, Doug and Lori Vanscoy, where she had a successful career in the show ring. She then gave them one litter of puppies. One of her sons, Vanslake’s Bruce Almighty, was also a show champion.

Mona winning in the show ring.

I first called Lori Vanscoy to see if they had any puppies. My husband, Chris, and I were just recovering from the loss of our previous dog. I was curious about what a well-bred American Staffordshire Terrier would cost. Lori told me she didn’t have any puppies at the moment, but she did have a dog that she had decided to adopt out of her breeding program. They were scaling down, and she just wanted her to go to a good home. If we were willing to pay to have her spayed, she would let us adopt her for the cost of the spay surgery.

I still remember the first time I saw Mona. She was in an outdoor kennel barking at us when we drove up. That was actually the last time I ever heard her bark as an alert. She would talk bark at me when I was too slow getting her dinner, but that was the extent of her vocalizations when she lived with us. She was the most terrible watchdog. She would just silently wag her tail when people came to our door.

Lori introduced us, and Mona met us in her typical diva style that I grew to love. She was very calm, not jumping up or being too pushy. She was friendly, but she also wasn’t about to embarrass herself with a grand undignified display. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, with a wagging tail thumping my leg, but that was the extent of her overtures.

There was something soothing about her even then, and we decided to see if our German Shepherd, Dante, would take to her. We met up again, and Dante and Mona seemed to get along well. They were both too proud to interact much a first, but they seemed amicable. We agreed to take her and pay for the surgery. Lori kept Mona with her during her recovery. Once she was well, we finally got to bring our new little girl home.

The Early Years

Mona fit right in with our family. She did have a few quirks, like learning that the vacuum or lawn mowers weren’t monsters that needed to be taken out. She eventually discovered, after a few scoldings, that we didn’t need protection from them.

Christmas 2005 at the Fayetteville, AR square.

She grew to love our older dog Dante. He was aloof in a cool sort of way. She would often snuggle up with him on crisp winter mornings.

Mona and Dante snuggling.

She also loved climbing the tree in our back yard to look over our six-foot privacy fence and survey her domain.

Best view in the neighborhood!

We enrolled her in obedience classes while in Arkansas, and she excelled and quickly moved up to the advanced obedience level. We also took her everywhere with us. She slept through outdoor airplane shows, snored during park movie nights, hiked the Ozark Mountains, and sat on my foot at sidewalk cafes. In typical diva style, Mona hated to sit her butt down on the hard floor, so my foot was always her cushion when we dined out.

Cuddling in our Arkansas home.

After a year getting her adjusted to our life in Springdale, AR, we moved to Bradenton, FL for a career advancement opportunity. After settling into our new life in Florida, we decided to get Mona into therapy work.

Mona, The Canine Good Citizen

The test from Therapy Dogs International (TDI) that allowed Mona to do therapy work was given simultaneously with the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. For a dog with the solid temperament of Mona, this was a peace of cake. However, I was afraid we wouldn’t pass because she did one thing wrong.

Mona doing her wave trick in Florida.

The instructor was stomping around us with a walker, slamming the legs inches from her paws and tail, while she held firm next to me on a stay command. He then leaned down right in her face, and coughed so loudly it seemed he was going to expectorate a lung. To my horror, Mona broke her stay. However, it was only to reach up and give him a kiss on the cheek. She immediately sat right back down in her place afterwards, but it was obvious she was worried about this hacking old man and wanted to comfort him.

Thankfully, even though she broke her stay, the instructor passed her. When he told me she was now certified, I mentioned how I was worried about her quick kiss. He looked at me, shook his head, and whispered, “There’s no way this dog could not pass.”

Mona, Therapy and DSR K-9

Mona started her career visiting nursing homes, and bringing smiles to the faces of the residents. She had an affinity for putting her head on people’s laps with her tail a wagging blur behind her. We heard many stories from residents of their own dogs, and many tears of joy flowed as Mona’s presence stirred up old memories.

However, we knew she could do more. We learned that TDI was holding a Disaster Stress Relief (DSR) evaluation six hours away in Savannah, GA. This was the highest honor a therapy dog could achieve, and only certified therapy dogs could even participate in the evaluation. DSR K-9 units were dispatched during 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and hurricane Katrina. Their sole purpose was to comfort victims of tragedies and emergency personnel who respond to the scene of the disaster. DSR dogs and their handlers worked with FEMA and the Red Cross, and would be flown to any disaster where their presence was needed to comfort the suffering.

Unfortunately, due to the need of a DSR dog to respond to any stressful situation confidently with no prior practice, there was no list of what would be on the test. While we had faith in Mona’s abilities, I felt a little silly booking the hotel room and giving up a weekend when I had no idea how to prepare Mona for what was to come.

Mona was always the fashionable diva, and loved her coats!

Being from Florida, having a short coat, and living inside, Mona was a wimp in cold weather. It was going to be in the twenties in Savannah that weekend. I also found out they would not allow any coats for the dogs during the test, and I was afraid Mona may shut down in the cold. The test was advertised to be over eight hours in length, and I had no idea how much of that time would be spent outside. While Mona had been put in intense situations during her therapy work and on our travels, I had never pushed her past what I knew she could handle. I was uneasy about signing up for the DSR test, but I decided I would have to trust she had the temperament to pass.

The purpose of the test was to make sure DSR dogs were a solution in an emergency situation, and not a problem. The dog must handle whatever noise or situation encountered in a calm manner – no matter what. Anything less than the perfect reaction would mean failure.

Guessing that sirens and firemen would be on the test, Chris and I worked with our local fire department. When I explained what I was doing, they were amazing to agree to help me. They were more than happy to suit up in full gear, complete with oxygen tanks and masks, and allow Mona to train with them.

Mona with the Myakka City Fire Department crew.

I also trained her while the firemen turned on the sirens of their truck. She learned to pay attention to me even in the most extreme chaos.

Making friends with some brave heroes.

The day before the training, Chris and I loaded up Mona and our two younger dogs, Keesha our Keeshond, and Soren our German Shepherd puppy, in our SUV and set off for our six-hour drive. We had just lost our elderly German Shepherd and Mona’s best friend, Dante, to cancer a month earlier. His presence was deeply missed as we made our first trip without him.

Mona didn’t sleep the entire drive up. Given her normal liberal napping schedule, I worried that it would affect her performance the next day.

We got in that night to our hotel, and it was full of DSR hopefuls. Many therapy dog teams had traveled halfway across the country. Our evaluation was on a Sunday, and there had been a group on Saturday that had already completed the test. I ran into several dogs and their handlers, where I learned that over half the class has not passed the test. All of the participants that had taken the test had been given strict instructions not to tell us anything about what we would encounter the next day. We were just told that the test was very difficult. I didn’t sleep much that night, and lay awake listening to dogs and their owners training in the hallway.

The next morning, the thermometer and frozen grass told us before we stepped outside that the day would be uncomfortably cold. Mona sensed my excitement, and was watching me very closely. We loaded up the crew and went to a retirement home where the inside portion of the test was to take place.

Mona seemed to understand this was important, and listened intently to me the entire morning. She showed off her obedience skills by heeling off lead in tight circles around a plate of meat set on the ground, and not touching it. She had to do a down stay in a line up of other dogs for over 15 minutes, and have strangers step down the row of pups, skipping over their bodies like horses over cavaletti. She had to do a down stay while I left the room, and not move for several minutes until I came back to release her. She had to come straight to me when called through multiple distractions. Any dog that didn’t perform flawlessly during any portion of the test was eliminated.

Chris and I taking a break with Mona next to a frozen fountain in Savannah, GA during the DSR test.

Our afternoon consisted of walking with the large group of dogs over a mile around town so the judges could see how she performed in a pack. We shivered around downtown Savannah amid frozen water fountains. Mona was perfectly content with her walking partners, and trotted politely on a loose leash next to me.

They also asked her to get into a bus packed full of other dogs to simulate the dogs going out on assignment together. We were squished next to another sweet pit bull mix, and I had a nice chat with her owner with Mona on my lap with the other dog pressed right in her face. We then had to pack the seven handlers and seven dogs into a tight elevator and go up and down together. The entire time, Mona was never once aggressive or ruffled by strange dogs pressing up tightly against her.

After the many activities throughout the day, we ended up in a local park going through different things we would encounter in an emergency. Suddenly, we looked up to see a helicopter landing on the grassy field where we were lined up. We watched as the helicopter touched down, and two volunteers stood on either side, one at the nose and one at the tail only a few feet from the whirling blades. I tried not to let my nervousness show as I realized the dogs were going to have to run to each volunteer, accept petting, and maintain a heel on our left sides with nothing between them and the whirling chopper as they crossed parallel to the other evaluator on the opposite side. Mona had never seen a helicopter before and looked to me.

I waited in line, watching many of the dogs ahead of us fail the test by veering away from the wind and blasting noise of the chopper blades. Mona was shivering, as the temperature was still in the low 20s. We had already been testing for nine hours straight, and I knew she was getting tired. As we waited in line for our turn, I took off my sweatshirt, and put it on her Rocky Balboa style to warm her up. I whispered my pep talk in her ear. I told her that she could do this; that she was tough; that she just had to trust me. She looked at me with complete surrender, and I knew she was going to stay unyielding to the end.

Mona waiting in line to do the helicopter test at the DSR test.

When it was her turn, I took off the sweatshirt (since it wasn’t allowed) and we trotted straight for the chopper. She never hesitated, never broke her heel, and never faltered. We met the first evaluator, and she sat for a quick pet session. She then had to cross next to the running helicopter at a heel with nothing between her and the icy wind coming off the whirling blades. I talked to Mona the entire way, encouraging her. I didn’t know if she could even hear me over the roar of the helicopter, but I had to try. We made it to the other evaluator, calm and composed. She stayed right by my side through the biting wind and noise. She locked her eyes on me and never looked away, even though she must have been scared. I have never been prouder of her than at that moment, when she gave me her absolute trust and held onto her training despite the toughest of distractions.

The helicopter test took out the largest portion of dogs, as most panicked from the sound of the blades and gusts of wind. Although this test seemed like the climax of the day, there were still more evaluations to perform before we could be certified.

After the helicopter, we both had the attitude that there was nothing else we couldn’t handle. We were right!

We had to approach firemen in full oxygen gear and let them pet the dogs. The evaluators watched for the slightest hesitation or poor reaction of the dogs to the gear. Mona went right up to the fireman, sounding like Darth Vader as he breathed through the mask, and had a great pet session with him.

We then had the dogs walk by mounted policemen. We had to weave in and out of the horses. I wasn’t sure if Mona had seen a horse before, but she stayed focused on me with no hint of nerves around the stomping beasts.

We also had to get our dogs into a tiny rowboat, and take them out on the lake to show the evaluators that they didn’t panic when on the water. We’d never taken Mona on a boat. Even though she wasn’t familiar with this new experience, she trusted me and sat quietly during the test.

I noticed as each portion of the test progressed, there were fewer and fewer dogs. People were pulled aside when the evaluators didn’t feel their dog had passed that portion of the test, and told to go home. In the end, only a third of the original class remained.

After a ten-hour evaluation, Mona was awarded the elite DSR title. I was so proud of her as we stood in the graduation line. Mona was exhausted and sat on my foot to keep her rump off the cold floor as the head of TDI, Ursula Kemp, and the evaluators congratulated us.

Mona and I at the DSR ceremony with the small group of dogs that passed the 10-hour evaluation.

Mona became a part of a very select group of therapy dogs to pass the 10-hour exam. While I always knew she was special, it wasn’t until that hour that I actually realized just what kind of dog we owned. I knew we had to share her with the world. To do less when given the gift of a dog like Mona would have been depriving humanity of a special type of comfort when it was needed the most.

All Children’s Hospital Years 

While Mona enjoyed her work at nursing homes, I noticed she really perked up when she encountered children. I also discovered that she had an uncanny ability to approach each child as they needed. While she confidently walked up to kids who reached out for her, if a child was unsure, she would lie down on her belly and slowly crawl to them so they wouldn’t be scared. She could read the situation, and respond in such a way that every kid would be comforted by her presence.

When I received a Therapy Dogs International call out for dogs to work at a local children’s hospital, I knew it would be a perfect fit for her. We reached out to the pet therapy program at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL, and volunteered our services.

After an extensive evaluation with the hospital’s life specialists, she was accepted into their elite pet therapy program. We started going to visit sick kids every other Friday. Since my company didn’t allow for time off for volunteer work, I would take half-day vacation days in order to bring her in to see the kids.

Mona giving me a wink from the backseat as we drive to All Children’s Hospital.

Mona intuitively knew that if we lifted her into a child’s bed, she was not to move and would let us position her feet, and lie down immediately. We did this for children who had just had surgery, and couldn’t be moved. She also learned if she was on the patient’s bed and we let her jump up, she could move around a bit and entertain her audience with high fives and kisses. She was the spoonful of sugar for children after taking their medicine, the shoulder for brave mothers to cry in the hallway, and the relief for doctors and nurses from their battles with illness.

Whenever we got out her All Children’s bandana, which was her uniform, she got so excited! She trotted through the hospital with absolute joy, with her little princess sashay taking her from room to room. Mona had a knack for getting even the saddest child to smile. Because she was so calm, the parents and hospital staff allowed her in the kid’s bed. I would lift Mona up in their bed, and she would sink down quietly next to them, and put her head on their chest. She let them snuggle her and kiss her, and loved every minute of it.

Chris and Mona about to go to work.

Mona was often used as a bargaining tool to get kids to take their medicine, or as something to look forward to when they finished a painful procedure. Mona would stand outside the room, and the child would focus on her at the door while they finished up the painful test. The snuggly, grunting pup was their cherished reward.

Mona went by her pet name Boo at the hospital. It was a nickname Chris and I had already used with her, so she reacted to it like a second name. Mona even had her own trading card that the kids passed around. She soon became a favorite of both the kids and hospital staff. The nurses and doctors often stopped us to get some pet therapy love too.

Mona and I in between visits with the kids.

I remember one instance where Mona pulled me down the hallway to one specific room. It wasn’t on our list, but when a dog with perfect leash manners suddenly pulls you over to a location, you pay attention.

Right when we reached the door, and I was going to call a nurse over to find out the status, a woman stepped out of the room with a brave face telling her daughter she would just be a minute as she closed the door behind her. As soon as she saw Mona in the hallway, she sank into her, held her tightly, and sobbed into her fur. She asked me if I could bring her in to see her daughter. I told her as soon as the nurse cleared us to go in, I would be happy to get them a visit.

While we waited for the nurse, the mom told me they had just received news there was nothing more the doctors could do, and that her daughter’s illness was terminal. She didn’t have long to live. I gave her a hug as the nurses cleared us go to in.

I lifted Mona onto the crisp sheets and saw the sad child’s eyes brighten. She smiled weakly and began petting Mona and asking questions about her. Mona snuggled her head under the little girl’s chin, and they just lay there quietly together while her tiny fingers stroked Mona’s back. After the visit, the mom followed us out into the hallway. With tears brimming in her eyes, she thanked us for bringing Mona to visit. She told us this was the first time her daughter had smiled in weeks.

There are so many more stories I could tell you of this amazing dog and her impact on children suffering from illness or injury; but this is a blog post, not a book. I will keep these memories in my heart forever. Due to HIPPA, I also wasn’t allowed to take pictures of Mona’s interactions with the kids. There were so many sweet memories, but the only place they will live on is in my heart.

First DSR Mission

In 2011, Mona was called out on a disaster relief project to visit victims of the April 27, 2011 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We made the trip over there with a few other DSR dogs. Mona spent several days visiting both the victims in the shelters, and government officials working overtime to help get the city back on its feet.

Quick photo I snapped during a briefing before visiting a shelter on our DSR mission.

There were long days in the grueling heat, and short nights in a small cabin crammed with many dog and handler teams in one big room. Mona slept snuggled up with me on a small cot.

While she performed flawlessly bringing comfort to so many displaced families, I decided this would be her only DSR trip. She was already 12 years old. At the time, I expected we were nearing the end of her life span, as her breed typically lasted about 10 to 15 years with good care.

The trip, accommodations, and long hours on hot pavement were tough on both of us. Though she didn’t complain, never lost her cool, and always enjoyed loving on the displaced families, after so many years of therapy work, I felt I was asking too much of her at her age.

The final confirmation of my decision came when one of the other DSR dogs actually bit Mona when her handler called her over to pet her. The long day at the shelter had worn on the corgi’s nerves, and the dog had retreated under her handler’s chair away from the kids while we were visiting families at a shelter. When the handler called Mona over to her, and Mona obeyed my command to go see her, the corgi shot out from under the chair and bit her on the nose. Mona didn’t react at all to the bite other than jumping away, even though it drew some blood.

Yet, it was at that moment when I began to question if I was asking too much from her. Spending long hours on her feet comforting others, and then getting bit by a fellow DSR corgi that had less tolerance for the extreme schedule was the final straw for me. A dog with this big of a heart probably would never quit. It was up to me to determine when her days should get easier.

After that trip, Mona continued to work at All Children’s Hospital right up until the day we were called to go overseas to the tiny island of Grenada, West Indies.

Ready to fly! Leaving Florida for Grenada in 2011.

The Grenadian Years

Mona adapted well to island life. She was never a fan of the Arkansas cold weather, and enjoyed lounging on our balcony overlooking the ocean surrounded by the salty, flower-scented Caribbean breeze. We had to keep a close eye on her, as many of the locals pushed to buy her from us. We were afraid someone would try to steal her. She was such a stunning dog, and there weren’t many American Staffordshire Terriers on the island.

Mona “helping” me with the dishes.

Thankfully, when we had to leave her locked in our rental unit when we went out, we had a big German Shepherd that kept anyone from trying to break in. Again, I can’t stress enough how terrible Mona was at being a watch dog.

Mona playing with Soren on our outdoor balcony in Grenada.

Mona still found a way to give back on the island, even though there weren’t any pet therapy programs in place. The medical school where Chris attended also had a veterinary college. Mona was often used as a practice dog for the vet students because of her relaxed temperament. Many future veterinarians practiced under her patient presence.

Mona taking a Caribbean shower.

Arkansas Retirement

Mona made several long trips back and forth overseas with us, before we finally came back to Arkansas in December of 2013 for good. She spent her last few years rolling in the grass, enjoying plenty of yummy meals, and playing with our German Shepherd, Soren, and our Keeshond, Keesha.

Surveying her kingdom back in Arkansas.

When she was 15, we noticed she started doing a head bob every now and then. We thought it was a cute new quirk, as it looked like she was saying “What’s Sup!” We didn’t know until later that this was the early sign of Canine Cognitive Disorder.

Mona wearing my shades during a drive in the car.

We then noticed that she was also less confident on our short hikes. It seemed like her balance was going, and she was unsteady jumping around rocks and over logs.

Unfortunately, we moved into a home in 2015 that had a small staircase to get to the backyard. For several months, Mona was willing to go down the stairs. We would put a leash on her to support her so she wouldn’t get going too fast, and walk down with her.

Chris carrying Mona up the stairs with Keesha looking on.

However, she never once agreed to climb back up the stairs. It wasn’t long before she lost her coordination to the point that she wasn’t comfortable even going down the stairs anymore, and we became full-time human elevators for her final two years of life.

Losing Her Slowly

Mona’s decline with Canine Cognitive Disorder was gradual, but steady. This is basically the canine equivalent to human Alzheimer’s disease. Mona slowly forgot all the vast training she had acquired in her lifetime.

She even stopped responding to her name. She forgot her house training, and began making messes in the house. She started pacing aimlessly around the couch. She lost interest in eating. Her constant pacing, coupled with her lack of desire to eat enough calories to compensate, caused her to lose weight.

Eventually, her back end started to give out after pacing too much between rests. She lost her coordination, and we would sometimes come home to find that she’s fallen on our wood floor, and had been unable to stand for several hours. I stopped leaving the house as much to make sure she didn’t get stuck like this again. We kept her in our bedroom when we did have to leave her alone, with the floors having plenty of traction so she wouldn’t fall.

Chris and I wrestled with where she was on her quality of life, and when it would be time to say goodbye. However, she still had one thing she continued to enjoy. Our younger pup Keesha loved to charge her with all the force within her mighty fluffiness, and Mona would wheel around and bounce after her in a game of chase. Sometimes, when Keesha was shedding, Mona would get a bit of fluff in her mouth and proudly show it off. As long as Mona still felt well enough to play, we couldn’t end her life. We told ourselves that when this final game was forgotten, it was time.

Mona continued to lose her once robust appetite and only eat portions of her meals. Her weight kept dropping. Finally, she refused food all together, even when we cooked her fresh chicken and rice. Her pacing also got worse, and she would circle continuously around our couch. She also started to get stuck in places she never used to go, and I’d have to rescue her from under our table or behind our Christmas tree. When she wasn’t pacing, she was sleeping.

When she stopped eating and was drinking very sparingly, we knew it was time. The sparkle in her eyes was growing dimmer, and she was losing everything that made up her dynamic diva personality.

On her last day of life, Keesha charged at her in the same game they had shared so many times. It was like she was hoping to still find her friend to play with her again. Mona just met her advances with a blank stare. She no longer remembered the game.

Saying Goodbye

Mona lived well into her 18th year of life. She comforted thousands of people between her therapy and disaster stress relief work. Now, it was our turn to give her a peaceful passing. We knew her end had to be as stress-free as possible.

We didn’t want to take her into the vet, wait in a crowded waiting room, and then be taken back to a cold table to meet her end. We knew the trip and experience at the vet office would be stressful for her. We found a kind vet, Dr. Steven Bird, who was willing to do house calls. We scheduled an appointment for 3 p.m. on December 1, 2017 to let her pass peacefully in a familiar, relaxed atmosphere.

We turned on all the Christmas lights in the house, played tranquil spa music, and lit a scented candle. Since I write from my living room, Mona had grown accustom to sleeping next to my chair. She also seemed to especially appreciate a roaring fire to keep the chill out of the room.

She was asleep next to my chair by the warm fire in her favorite bed when the vet and tech came into our living room. Chris and I had said our goodbyes, and loved on her all day. She didn’t even wake up when they quietly walked in, sat down, and began petting her.

Chris saying goodbye.

She did wake up when they gave her the first sedative injection; but true to form, she never once whined, just raised her head and flinched slightly at the needle. Chris held her head as the sedative took affect, and her face sank into his hands. We both told her what a good girl she had been for us, and thanked her for being such an amazing dog. We reminded her of all the people she had touched, and how much of an impact her little heart of love had made on the world. She passed very peacefully under the glow of candlelight and the crackle of the fireplace.

When her mighty heart was finally stilled, I crumpled into sobs in my husband’s arms. I no longer had to hold back the agony, and could cry without upsetting her. She always wanted to kiss every tear away, and I knew only in death would the sound of sobs not cause her to want to take away another’s pain.

We buried her on Chris’ mom’s property, since we aren’t sure we will be staying in our current house permanently. She loved going over to her Grandma’s house, and was very familiar with the country setting.

Chris and I dug her grave as the sun was dipping into the earth, and we wrapped her up in a soft baby blue towel. The final rays of sunset light framed the golden field in a heavenly glow as we laid her to rest.

The previous day, Chris had gotten me yellow roses, as he knew I was having a tough time watching her fade away. I had taken to crying in closets and showers so I didn’t upset the dogs, but my heartbreak was getting harder to hide. We took a rose from this bouquet and placed it between her front paws in her grave. It seemed fitting that our princess have a beautiful flower rest with her. The yellow rose represents friendship, and we couldn’t think of a better friend to the world than our girl, Miss Mona.

In the spring, we plan to plant a yellow rose bush by her grave to honor her life, and all the friends she made along the way.

Mona’s Legacy Lesson

Part of the reason we got Mona certified with AKC Canine Good Citizen, Therapy Dogs International, and Disaster Stress Relief was to have proof of her amazing temperament. I read stories of people coming to homes in Denver, after breed-specific legislation went into affect, and taking people’s dogs to be killed if they even resembled a pit bull. I was always a bit scared someone would try to do that to Mona, because she fell into that broad breed classification. I wanted every possible certification to show in court that just because she looked a certain way, that didn’t mean she was a danger to society. On the contrary, she had a better temperament that most dogs considered “safe.” She had passed the DSR test, the highest caliber of temperament tests, when Labradors and Golden Retrievers in our group had failed it.

I think it’s very sad that the pit bull is the number one dog put down in shelters because people are so afraid to love them. Many dogs aren’t even given a chance to be adopted just because of the way they look. If there’s anything I can do to change even a little bit of this atrocity by sharing Mona’s story, I hope it makes a small impact. I pray it opens up someone’s mind to adopting a dog based upon their heart, not their breed.

Mona at 15 years old – still staying sassy!

I have the privilege of knowing Mona’s entire life history. Her breeder confirmed she never showed even a hint of aggression to people during her first four years of life. Chris and I can attest that she never showed any aggression to humans the last 14 years. On the contrary, she endured tiny hands gripping her fur and children holding her tightly during their worst moments for a large majority of her life, and she only ever responded with unfailing love.

Even when old age griped her final years, when arthritis caused her joints to hurt, and her brain lost all remembrance of us, she never once so much as growled or snapped when we trimmed her nails, bathed her, picked her up, or untangled her from her latest stuck position under our furniture.

One of the symptoms of Canine Cognitive Disorder is that the dog can often become aggressive. While Mona had the aimless circling, pacing, loss of balance, forgetfulness of commands, getting stuck, withdrawal, and house soiling issues, she never once exhibited even a hint of aggression. I just don’t think it was in her DNA.

While Mona was very special, there are so many other dogs that can possess this kind of heart. Many of them are daily dying in shelters, not given a chance to show how amazing they are, simply because of the way they look. I do realize that dogs of every breed bite, but dogs of every breed also heal the wounds of the world.

Mona with her favorite toy, a squeaky elephant.

If there’s anything we can learn from Mona’s life of service, it’s not to judge a book by its cover. Don’t lump any dog with a dangerous label just for being in that breed category. Give each dog’s personality a chance to shine, and don’t support legislation that snuffs out their lives because they look a certain way. Laws should only punish the deed, not the breed.

Mona’s death left a huge hole in our lives. We still shed tears for her daily, as the emotion is very raw. However, we also share stories of her many triumphs within her therapy work, and her silly antics within our family. She gave a lot of love to thousands of people in her lifetime, she kissed away a lot of tears, and it’s my hope that her legacy won’t ever be forgotten.

Mona in her favorite spot – a lap!

I also hope people will be open to adopting dogs that carry the label pit bull after reading her story, because they are an amazing breed with so much love to give. Our society and our news media have failed them by creating a monster that isn’t there, and so my sweet dogs die daily because of this unfounded fear.

Mona lived well. She died well. And she changed a lot of opinions, one tail wag at a time. Even after her death, I hope that more dogs are loved, and allowed to love others, from her story.

Sleep now, our sweet, sassy princess. You have earned your rest. Well done!

Mona at 16 years old, looking incredibly cute mid snooze.

Please follow and like us: