Archives for category: therapy dogs
Photo by Rick Harris.

Photo by Rick Harris.

“… I’m afraid a boat

so small would sink

with the weight

of all my sorrow.”

Li Qingzhao, “Spring at Wu-Ling”

Sometimes we must walk through life as solitary creatures. We may have companions, but, in essence, we are born alone, and die alone… with the exception of the Divine, if you believe in such.

This week just past was one of those times. A cherished friend passed away unexpectedly last Monday evening or Tuesday morning. Funny my choice of topic last time. One could almost infer I knew something was about to happen, but I did not. Maybe it would have been easier if I had.

Chi was always by my side, for he could feel things were “off” somehow, and would curl up on the back of the sofa by my head, or at my side, or somewhere nearby. Even so, this was one of those journeys I felt I had to take alone.

Loss is never easy. In this case it was an invitation to look deeply into the things that make life tick. Friends, small pleasures, moments caught in shards of glass within time. And it was a good chance to practice the Lessons of Chi. I took many walks along shaded, tree-lined parks and sidewalks. I wrote love letters. I sat and reflected on my friend and the ephemeral, fragile nature of this life we lead. I prayed; I cried; I spoke with this one who had finally moved beyond the veil. I played sad songs – mostly for me, not for my friend. I shared many hugs with other friends and acquaintances doing much the same thing. We spoke about our friend and realized, as we shared, that maybe we were all linked more closely than we realized. Complete strangers came to share their thoughts, love, prayers, and energy.

As we walked through the process together, we realized our small boats were, in reality, not so small. There are a lot of boats out there, all sinking under the weight of so much grief. And yet, if you join boats, the boat gets progressively larger and more buoyant.

This event of loss became something much larger, and more life-affirming. We all have this chance to pilot our ship, be it a rowboat, a canoe, a yacht, a cruise liner, or speedboat. It’s up to each of us to make it count.

I am grateful for all who reached out in ways large or small. I am grateful to be sharing this experience of life with each of you. Let us choose to enjoy this grand tour, wherever it leads.

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy. – Spider Robinson

Pain

Pain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week was a time of great stress – deadlines, evaluations, things to get done everywhere I looked. As the days crept along, my neck bore the burden. It was tight on Monday, aching on Tuesday. On Wednesday I had my quarterly review at work. When it was over, I was finally starting to relax. Suddenly, my neck snapped out of alignment. Pain, great pain. That night I woke up and couldn’t rest at all. Of course, the dogs sensed my discomfort.

The two Manchester terriers, Cara and Mara, both wanted to make me feel better – literally. They both jumped up by my face, licking me. Despite my best efforts, the natural reflex to protect the neck kicked in, making me jerk in pain.  They kept licking and trying to get me to move or play to feel better. While this is great puppy therapy most of the time, it was decidedly wrong for this particular occasion. They were summarily dismissed from my presence due to the fresh pain they unknowingly caused.

Chi waited until the terriers had gone to lay across the room, and then he came up close to me.

“No, Chi! Go! It hurts! Go!”  After several rounds of this, I gave up. Chi refused to leave.

The pug gingerly step-stumbled over my legs, and curled up in a ball at my feet. He snuffled with considerable nervousness.  I was still mumbling my objections. Finally I gave up and let Chi stay there at my feet.

It may hurt my pride to admit that some relatively small amount of time passed before I fell sound asleep. And, once again, I became aware of how wonderful Chi is at the fine art of being present to someone else’s pain. By insisting on “being there,” Chi made the pain seem bearable. From that point, the time passed quickly until I could go see my chiropractor and get some treatment.

The next time your animal wants to simply lie with you or rest against you, don’t be quite so fast to send them away. They may well be giving you a gift.

In the meantime, I have an hour of massage scheduled for myself tomorrow. Time to rest and rejuvenate!

chi

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Service dog sculpture at Metrotech Plaza in Br...

Service dog sculpture at Metrotech Plaza in Brooklyn-2 (Photo credit: Martha Garvey)

After leaving work on a Friday afternoon, my mind is on many things. I think about how hard I have worked during the week. That thought is generally followed by “Only two days off! I need more time!” (Don’t we all think this one!) Generally, I then start compiling all the lists of “stuff” that a weekend entails: honey-do lists (heh), grocery list, schedules, stuff I need to do but don’t really want to do. stuff I really want to do but don’t need to do, stuff I really don’t want to do and will NOT do, etc. This is a process most of us go through, winnowing through the sheer possibility only to thin the list by finance and time into some vague structure to start the weekend. Much will get done, a few items will not and will then be shuttled onto the ever-lengthening list of stuff to do NEXT weekend.

Such was the case this past Friday. I was sitting on the bus as it prepared to leave the downtown area, idly people watching as I pondered what was for dinner. An immaculately-coiffed woman in a blue business suit sat down in a bench seat to my left. She fumbled with her oversized purse and brought out an iPad. She powered it up and sneezed twice in rapid succession, saying nothing to the several people around her who blessed her afterwards. The bus pulled away and started its journey, stopping every few blocks to pick up more people.

I was drawn out of my reveries by some shuffling and unusual activity at the front of the bus a few feet away. I saw the golden head before I saw the rest of the scene. The large golden retriever came onto the bus calm, regal, and quiet. I was on my way out of my seat at that sight alone, before iPad lady told me to move. I moved a few rows back, and watched the dog escort its master to the seat as people milled about, rather uncertain of what to do.

Service dogs never cease to amaze me. This was no different. Surrounded by strangers that might cause a lesser dog to panic and act out, this beautiful animal stood there as its master settled in the seat and then sank to the ground with only some pressure and murmured direction from its lucky human. When another person came to sit, the dog crawled under the seat of the iPad lady and settled right back in.

I don’t believe people understand the work and effort that goes into training a dog to perform as that one did on the bus. So much could have gone wrong in that simple series of interactions. I reflected on that small miracle as we made our way onto the interstate and headed north to suburbia.

I love and adore Chi, and have often thought of training him to be a therapy dog. There’s no way my lovable lug of a pug could be a service dog. He is too involved in responding to others. Most pets are, I’d think. I know that service dogs start their training as mere puppies with their trainers. Preparation time with these trainers can be over a year. There is a reason for that time. I usually witness service dogs leading their humans across streets, or walking down a hall. I take for granted what these beautiful animals do.

I am fortunate to work in a community that hosts two people with service dogs. Sometimes we are encouraged to greet the animals, and sometimes not. One of my favorite moments with a service animal happened at work, in the cafeteria at lunchtime. A black lab serves a blind man at work, and it’s a character to be sure. The dog was laying on the floor at the table next to us as the man enjoyed his lunch. The room was packed full of people. The dog was well behaved with the tiniest exception… it kept looking at us as we ate. My lunch companion and I did not interfere, knowing we should not interact with the dog, but it kept “flirting” with us anyway. A few months later in a conversation, that dog’s owner said he knew she did that, and sort of chuckled. So, clearly these are individual animals with individual personalities.

This golden retriever that came onto the bus was simply a magnificent animal. And as I walked down the aisle to leave the bus, I leaned over and whispered to the man. “You have the most magnificent service dog I have ever seen.” He broke into a smile so wide, so full of pride. In his world, that dog was clearly the greatest too.

The next time you see a service animal, take a moment and think about the miracle of training and love that takes place in order for a dog to serve a human.

Take good care of my… baby….

There’s a lot of taking care of a dog, you can bet on that. Exercise. Grooming. Bling. Vaccinations. Dental work. Toys. bones. Special toys when the dog won’t play with the toys he’s already got. (Don’t judge.)

And yet, there are so many more moments when we take care of our pets.  Think about it a little while.

There’s the time Chi stepped on a piece of gravel. He stopped, plopped down on the ground, and cried until we stopped and plucked it out. And who can forget the cross country trip with Chi in the back of the car? He’d sit, cry softly despite the low-grade tranquilizer we’d give him.. and then howl as if he’d been stabbed when we had to stop and go inside the convenience store to use the restroom. So intense was his fear of separation that we had to take turns sitting and soothing Chi while we were doing even simple things while travelling. This went on for a very long time… although fortunately for all of us, he’s getting to be an old pro in the car now.

We could go on and on with these stories, large and small, about how we take care of our pets. There’s another way still we can look at taking care. We can look at how our pets take care of us.

If I allowed Chi to tell this story he’d talk about how I sometimes come home tired, overworked and overemotional about some silly thing which happened through the course of my day. He’d tell about trying to get me to stop — just stop. Mommy, lie down and smell the dandelions for a while. He tries to get me to pet him. Petting him calms me down. And there is always the best thing of all — I can give him treats! He swears it makes me feel better, but I’m not so sure about that one.

In the morning, Chi is my litmus test for the morning. If I’m tired, he’ll try to burrow me in and trap me under the covers. If I greet the day with a smile and gratitude, he wants to play. I always do feel great when I take that extra moment to play with him. And then we have the “conversation”. I’ve mentioned this conversation before, and I am sure I’ll mention it again. “Mommy has to go to work now.” Chi is always displeased with this, even when I remind him I do it to be able to get him more doggy bling.

It’s a dog’s world, after all. Dogs can be pretty smart about teaching us how to take care of ourselves. How do your pets take care of you?

Thanks to the Daily Prompt for the inspiration.

 

chicloseup2

At times, everyone needs that little “bump” life brings. Maybe we have gone stale through routine; maybe we have gotten lost through grief. Whatever the reason, life has a way of bringing opportunity to our doors.  It encourages us to dip a toe back in the collective pool, as it were.

For me, life used dogs to remind me of innocence, to show me how simple it really can be. For me, I’ll even say it was God. I now understand why people say God = dog! It’s not as denigrating as some people like to make it.

Sometimes our human minds get all tied up in complexities. In my case, it was a broken heart. Life bumped me around a bit. I was depressed, and badly so. My mother and God seemed to abandon me at the same time. There was little point. I was scared of the world and unable to relax into outside life any longer. I barricaded myself into my house, resolutely staying away from the outside world. I was locked up tight, blocking the tiniest hint of Light from entering my world. God had little option but to bring something to break through the thousand layers of resistance. And thus, God = dog.

Chi arrived a little damaged as well. We understood each other, despite his peeing on my blanket. If he made the wrong move and sensed he’d displeased us, he’d cringe and hide. It took a while to coax Chi out of his darkness…. And, over time, I found myself being coaxed out of my darkness as well. Occasionally I’d get in a space where I would not want any attention from anyone, human or canine. Chi would stubbornly insist on coming wherever I was at those moments. When I would allow him next to me at those times, we would both benefit.

Eventually, looking back, I had to ask whom was healing whom. For a while I resented “life energy” being present. It was infinitely easier remaining in my comfortable husk of a life. Inevitably, just as the Tao te Ching says, the repeated presence and love of Yin wore its way through the rocks blocking the river of my heart. If it was so with the Grand Canyon, then it’s definitely so with lesser rock structures like the human heart.

To end our time today, I would ask you this question: What makes you come alive?

Now, go do it.

comealive

Blogger’s note: While there is some question of the attribution of this quote to Howard Thurman, it would appear the quote did occur in conversation with Thurman. Thus, I am using it.

Today would have been my mother’s 84th birthday.

She left us back in 1999. So many memories have gone through my mind over the past few days. None were so poignant, so relevant to this blog, as her experience with one of our dogs near the end of her life.

This story is not about Chi. (Yes, so sorry, Pugalicious.) My mother passed long before Chi arrived on the scene. At that time, we had a rat terrier/toy fox terrier named Jake. Jake was irascible, curmudgeonly, and charming. He would love you forever, especially if treats or toys were in the equation. At other times, you might have to negotiate favorable terms.

He was a character, in all the best ways that word can be used.

Jake

Jake

My mother was not really into dogs for most of her life — most especially not when we were growing up. Aunts and uncles had dogs, so we did get to know dogs… but we never owned any as we grew up. Mom would always tell us that dogs were a lot of work and responsibility, and that our family liked to come and go. A dog didn’t really fit our lifestyle. Wise lady, many would say. She knew her limits, and her family’s limits, and no dog would enter the house unless we were ready for it. Turtles, guinea pigs, watching a bunny nest outside, all of these we did. But no dogs. Not for us.

Every once in a while in passing conversation my mother would mention a dog she had when she was growing up. His name was Spunky, and he was always described by family members as “a salt and pepper mutt.” Mother and her sister were quite young at the time, and most stories revolved around playing fetch, sneaking Spunky treats, and the like.

In 1999, as she grew weaker from the increasingly ineffective and painful cancer treatments, my husband and I took a few weeks’ leave from our jobs, loaded Jake into our car, and drove cross-country to be there with Mom as her time wound to a end. At the moment we all assembled in her living room and Mom walked out to meet us, something different came into her eyes.. a softness, a distant remembrance of times beyond her present world. We swept Jake up into our arms, and introduced him to Mom.

“Spunky… he looks just like Spunky.”

This made her happy, and she cooed at Jake and scratched his forehead. We stood back and watched the two bond. It was then that I began to have a faint inkling of the power of animals to heal and to comfort those in chronic pain.

Mother had metastatic lung cancer which had spread to the brain. She was in the end stages of life. As the days passed, her tumor would make itself known in little ways: memory problems, confusion, behavior changes. At night she would wander the halls of her own home fighting the opponent none of us could see, but all could feel. Cancer, death, her own mortality, her wish to stay in her body… all of these things would be enacted on a nightly basis. She’d cry out, and get out of bed, and wander til we gently guided her back into her room and helped her to settle back in her bed.

Jake never approached her when she was in these states. He would seem to know when to come, jump up on the bed, and let himself be seen by her. As the days went along, she drew further into her childhood world. Finally, in the hours before her death, she could no longer tell that the dog before her was not Spunky. Jake, for his part, seemed to understand this was important somehow. He’d sit on the bed, answer and respond to her calls.

Mom was infused with some interior light deep within. She visually looked younger and happier. She would look at Jake and call, “Spunk, come here Spunk!” And Jake would oblige. She’d beam a smile at him, and whisper to him about things that only they knew. She would sit and speak to him for a few moments at a time. This was about all she could endure before lapsing back into sleep or fading consciousness.

As the years have passed, these moments have come to mean more and more to me. The loving presence of a dog seemed to bring more relief than an entire counter full of pain medications. We now know, in many cases, this effect is real. Science learns more about the connection between pets and health every day.

And as a remembrance of Mom this year, it seems very apropos. Mom would have loved the explosion of life that is Chi. Somewhere, I think she sees him.

Happy Birthday, Mom.