Saturday, January 5, 2013

Memories of My 1st Year as a Therapy Dog

 She held my head in her fragile hands.  Gently pulling my ears and looking into my eyes, and my very soul, she whispered, “You are God’s little angel in a precious doggie’s body; thank you for coming today.”  Then she asked for a kiss and said, “I’ve never been kissed by an angel before.”  That is just one of the experiences I have had during my first year as a registered therapy dog with TD Inc.  This has been the best year of my short 3 year life.  I love the work I do and want to share a few of my favorite experiences. 

I do a number of tricks, but my favorite, and I think what everyone likes the most is my salute.  On one October visit, there was a gentleman (wearing a WW II cap) in a wheelchair sitting in the doorway of his room.  I was on my way to visit another patient, when he called out to me.  I headed in his direction to let mom know that we had to stop. After going through my typical routine of twirling, dancing, rolling over and giving high-five, my mom asked him in what branch of the military he had served.  His answer – “Army- paratrooper- 14 jumps!”  Mom asked me to sit at attention and salute.  With that, he saluted me and then asked me to return his salute!  That never happened before; my eyes glanced sideways to mom to look for direction. She whispered, “Salute”.  We did that a few more times that day. On our next visit, this time in his room, I went through my same routine when suddenly he motioned for me get on a chair near his bed; I thought it was so he could pet me.   He looked me in the eye, and in a military type voice gave me the command, “Jump soldier!”  I was honored to play paratroopers with him on that visit and many others.

December 15th of 2012 was probably my best day as a therapy dog; I was invited through Hospice of the Valley - Pet Connections, one of the groups for which I volunteer, to visit the Arizona State Veterans’ Home.  What an honor that was! I saluted until my right paw was on automatic pilot stopping instinctively, sitting at attention and saluting (sometimes to people who weren’t even veterans).  But, there was one particular salute that was especially meaningful to me.  

Sitting in his wheel chair on the second floor near the nurse’s station was a solitary veteran with his head held down; a small blanket covered his lap, and a stained terrycloth bib encircled his neck. I will call him Sgt. Jack. As we had done numerous times that morning, my mom approached him, introduced me and told him that I would like to give him my special salute.  Never looking up, he said that I would have to do the salute by his foot right next to his wheelchair.  On command, I sat at attention as close to him as I possibly could and saluted.  I could tell Sgt. Jack was pleased because in a faint and labored voice, I heard him utter, “Good job, little soldier.”  Mom asked if he’d like to see me do my other tricks. Sgt. Jack, again not looking up, responded with a “yes, ma’am”, a slight nod, and pointed to the spot adjacent to his chair.  I tried very hard to do my tricks in the designated spot, but it was a little too close for my roll over, and I ended up rolling away from him about four feet.  That is when it happened!  Sgt. Jack looked up ever so slightly to watch me with what I think was his attempt at a smile on his badly disfigured face.  Now I knew why he didn’t want to look up at us.  Half of his face was almost unrecognizable.  Upon realizing that we saw his face, he instinctively looked down.   Immediately, I went to his chair, stood on my hind legs, put my front paws and head on his lap, whimpered a little sigh and kept nuzzling him to pet me.  I stood ever so still for what seemed like a long time. Mom told Sgt. Jack that it was fine for him to pet me. As he put his hand on my head and his fingers began to move, I could feel his kindness and love.  I knew better than to lick his hand, but I couldn’t help myself.  Sgt. Jack needed that kiss.  He looked up and without looking away said, “Thanks for coming little soldier; you made my day”.   It was I who should have been thanking him for it was he who had made my day. He understood my unconditional love, and I understood what a difference I made in his life.

Just before leaving the building that December morning, I did something else I had never done before. I eyed on particular veteran whose legs were stretched out in front of him with his feet on the foot rests of his wheelchair.  As if they were a ramp, I walked right up his legs and plopped myself in his lap. 
  Mom apologized for my boldness, but he just chuckled, held me close, started to pet me and uttered, “Soft”.  His therapist seemed overjoyed with his simple response because he had not spoken even a single word in months.  Mom asked his permission to have his picture taken with me.  Santa, who witnessed this scene, came and joined us in our photo session.  I wonder if I climbed in his lap because he looked like Santa to me!  You can be the judge when you look at our picture*.

Here we are!  Can you guess which is the "real" Santa?

I am so proud to be an American!
I could tell many more stories, like when I had a fashion show of doggie harnesses for my patient who once owned a lady’s dress shop, but those are for another time.
*Signed photo authorization