August, 2009 Blogs

The nonbeliever on companion animals
Monday, August 31, 2009

I met my first nonbeliever. Well, actually I had run into people in my travels outside the United States who did not believe in the human-animal bond and in the medical benefits that come with interacting with companion animals. But this week, in line for the Post Office here in the state of Washington, I did not expect to hear what I heard.

An elderly gentleman was strongly making his case to his female companion that cats were too dirty to be in the house and basically just had their job to do in the barn and had no place in the home or otherwise alongside people. So long as they cleared the homestead of the mice and rodents, they were fulfilling their positions. His view on dogs was slightly softened, but again there was for him the line drawn between humans and companion animals, all the other talk of bonds were in his mind “a bunch of new-age babble.” He supported his argument by recalling stories of dogs turning on their families that were recently in the news and of pregnant women who were not to change cat litter boxes. He drew the ire of many other people standing in line but held his ground.

This got me to thinking. I have taken for granted, having been around companion animals my whole life, that everyone felt and believed in the benefits of stress relief and lower blood pressure that comes with letting an animal into your life. I have also learned a great deal from Delta Society about the scientific studies supporting this bond. So, I had to wonder: does it come down to hygiene for nonbelievers, as the elderly man outlined? What are the reasons that some do not find companion animals, companions?

I confess to being in a bit of a bubble about the answer to this question. Everyone I know has a dog or cat and considers them part of the family. I wondered about other stories just like the gentleman in the post office.

Do you have any stories? I’d love to hear them.


You can leave your comments on the Discussion Board (see green button to the left).

The Pup Gave Her a Reason to Go On
Friday, August 28, 2009

I lost my wife to cancer in June 2006 after 43 years and 9 months of marriage to the most beautiful and wonderful lady in the world. The loss made me very sad, depressed and alone for the first time in over 44 years. While my wife and I were together we talked many times about getting a dog. Because my wife was handicapped and in a wheelchair she was not sure she could take care of a dog during the day while I was at work.

My wife battled cancer for over 27 years and the last time she was in Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago she told me about a Golden Retriever that came around while she was doing therapy. She was having a very difficult day and was ready to just give up when a dog with a vest came up to her and sat down next to her. The dog put his paw on her hand and looked at her with his beautiful brown eyes and started wagging its tail. My wife told me that pup gave her a reason to go on with her therapy that day.

I retired in 2003 and after I lost my wife I thought again about getting a dog to keep me company. One night I saw a commercial about the Anti-Cruelty Society pet adoption program. I thought about the adoption process and in December 2006 I took a ride to the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago.

While there I looked through the many cages with beautiful dogs waiting for adoption. Then I passed one cage in particular with a little black, beige and white puppy curled up in the back corner of her cage, she caught my eye. I stopped and placed my hand on the door of the cage and talked very softly to the pup inside. The puppy crawled to the front of the cage looked at me with very sad but beautiful brown eyes and licked my hand. At that moment I knew this was the pup for me and I was the friend she was looking for.

I spotted one of the young ladies feeding the dogs and asked her what I needed to do to adopt the little puppy. She told me and I started the multi-stages of the process. I was accepted and approved for adoption and was asked to return the next day to pick up my new family member and friend Phydeaux (Phydo).

Phydeaux was the name my wife picked should we ever get a dog. Phydeaux is such a friendly and smart pet, she loves our five daughters our five sons-in-law and our eleven grandchildren. My neighbors and their kids also love her because she is so good and friendly around children, grown‐ups and other animals.

In January, 2007 Phydeaux and I were enrolled in an eight week obedience class. Eight weeks later, Phydeaux and I graduated from the obedience course together. I waited several months and then I enrolled Phydeaux and me into an AKC Canine Good Citizen Prep Course. We went through the course and then took the test and passed without any difficulty. I’m very proud of my pup Phydeaux.

It has now been 2 years and 8 month from the day I adopted my friend and new family member Phydeaux, a very friendly and bright 70‐lb Akita/Husky. I want to thank the Anti-Cruelty Society for the work they do and the service they provide for dogs and cats and a very special thank you for my new family member and very special friend Phydeaux.

Last Christmas I was in California visiting my daughter and son‐in‐law when I meet their neighbors who have three beautiful dogs. They told me about Delta Society and their involvement with their dogs. They were very proud of their volunteer work and shared a CD of their dogs visiting with children at various hospitals. I told them about my pet and asked them more about Delta Society. I'm now very excited about what I hope to be our next adventure together ‐ becoming a registered Pet Partners team with my friend Phydeaux.

Robert Davidson (guest blogger)

Yogi brings sunshine and smiles to those special folks who need his magic….
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I recently saw a letter mailed to Delta Society from Pet Partner Jon Blanc which touched my heart, about his “magic” dog, Yogi. I’d like to share portions of that with you along with some inspiring comments from a very special young patient he and Yogi have visited many times.

“Yogi is a handsome 4-year old Newfoundland dog, all black except for a white star on his chest. Yogi spends every Thursday at the Albany Medical Center. He visits the Oncology unit, two pediatric wards, the pediatric ICU, the Emergency Room and the “same day” surgery unit. He also makes special visits to other areas of the hospital where patients have specifically requested a therapy dog visit…often those patients are homesick for their furry friends waiting for them at home.”

Jon says Yogi is magical because he instantly transforms frowns to smiles on everyone he sees including the medical center’s staff. Yogi gently nuzzles while patiently listening to stories and gazes lovingly into the eyes of anyone who needs a friend. Recently, a Pediatric doctor said Yogi was better than morphine in being able to relieve a young child’s pain associated with her chemotherapy regimen.

“Yogi not only puts his heart and soul into his special therapy animal work but also lends his body – sometimes as a pillow for a small child who needs reassurance or offers his long silky fur to be stroked as a tactile therapy. As his honored Pet Partners and his Dad, I feel that my contributions are insignificant when compared to the joy and laughter that he brings to everyone he sees.”

A young girl, 9 years old, who has cancer, has been receiving visits from Yogi. She has told many people that the day she met Yogi, she was in a very bad mood. Apparently Jon poked his head in the room and asked the mother if her daughter would like to see a therapy dog….the mom said yes. The girl says that her mom probably said yes because she was tired of hearing her yelling.

The little girl said, “Then and there I saw my future best friend walk through the door. I popped right out of bed and sat on the floor with him….even though he’s big; Yogi’s a big cute mush ball. There’s something special about this dog – I just can’t figure it out yet. Maybe he’s magic or came down from heaven. But whatever it is I LOVE HIM! Yogi is funny, special and sensitive. But most of all, he made me feel good when I felt horrible!”

Jon and Yogi are helping patients and the staff smile – in fact, the manager of volunteer services said that “when these two walk the halls, there are more smiles on faces than at any other time of the day, smiles heal everyone!”

Thank you to Yogi and Jon for making days brighter and happier for so many people!
Farewells and Cat Tales
Monday, August 24, 2009
Before I left for Vienna, I took McGee to Oregon to stay at my parents’ house where a neighbor could watch him. When I got back to Seattle though, it was too quiet without him. Sure, I had my roommates, but I didn’t have my loyal cat to sit at the foot of my bed and greet me happily every time I came home. Plus, I wanted him to be with me while I spent my last two weeks in Washington before I moved back to Oregon. Luckily, I had a friend driving up from Oregon to Seattle, so he was able to pick McGee up and bring him to me. (This friend is even allergic to cats, but likes McGee enough to endure a four-hour drive with him). McGee was so happy to be back with his roommates that he wouldn’t leave us alone. He even stopped meowing by the door to be let out (for awhile).

While McGee was gone, my roommates upstairs got a kitten named Georgia. I introduced them right away. Knowing that McGee was a loving, gentle cat with people; I hoped that this attitude would carry over to cats as well. It didn’t. McGee was socially awkward. He would meow, growl, swat Georgia in the face with his polydactyl paw, and run away. This was discouraging because I knew eventually I would be living on my own with just McGee, so I planned to eventually get him a friend so he would have someone to play with.

Fortunately, after a short time, McGee started getting used to Georgia. Soon, they were chasing each other around the house. The two of them would jump in the air and run into each other, then wrestle on the ground. This was a side of my clumsy, lazy cat that I had never seen. I could have sat for hours just watching them with their dramatic show.

Eventually McGee got bored with the kitten and started meowing to be let out again, so my roommate decided to take him outside on his leash. A few minutes later, I heard her yelling after McGee. I thought the only way he might have gotten away was if she set the leash down or a large dog ran by and ate him. No. McGee saw a squirrel and pulled the leash out of her hand and ran into the neighbor’s yard. I spotted him in the neighbor’s yard as my roommate ran alongside the busy street yelling for him. I forgot to stay calm and began yelling frantically for him to come. He started to walk in my direction, saw his leash “chasing him” and bolted past me to the other side of the house. Luckily, he was too scared to move and I was able to grab him and bring him inside. That was his last time going on a “walk” in Seattle.

Whether he’s acting like a dog or a cat or pretending he’s something better than the two combined, his company will always be a comfort. After being apart for a couple of weeks, his annoying habits weren’t so annoying anymore (like digging obsessively in the carpet to “bury” his food bowl or smacking the blinds back and forth with his tail when I’m trying to sleep). McGee and I will both miss having roommates, but I know that we’ll make do, even if we have to get a kitten friend for McGee to play with.

I’ve completed my internship at Delta Society and McGee and I are ready to move to Oregon. It’s been a great experience working for a nonprofit that cares so much about people and animals and the bond that they share. I’ve also learned a lot about McGee from writing blogs about him, and I hope you’ve learned what a joy pets can bring to your lives if you let them. I look forward to seeing how Delta Society continues to impact people and their lives. Hopefully I will be able to have my own Pet Partners team someday – I’ll keep you posted!


READ, Whites & Max
Friday, August 21, 2009

Sandra and George White have always been big proponents for reading programs for children in their earliest years of school. Thus, when they learned that they could support reading programs in a hands-on way, they quickly worked their way to becoming registered Pet Partners teams with their Golden Retriever, Max.

Max came into their family as a 5-month old pup with dysplasia in both hips. He had a very successful THR (total hip replacement with the Kyon method) on his left side, and a TPO (triple pelvic osteotomy) on his right. Today at 5 1/2 years, Max is very healthy and has a wonderful, gentle temperament. Sandra calls Max “a ‘mellow fellow’ and exceptionally friendly with children.”

Every week, through their local R.E.A.D.® program, Sandra, George and Max make a visit to Highland Park Central Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. “We meet in the school library with two students for 30 minutes each. They are selected by their classroom and reading teachers and we work under their direction. We are going on our fourth year of working at Highland Park Central.”

Sandra fondly recalls one of their visits with a 1st-grade boy, “. . . who needed a tremendous amount of help. Max had a very calming effect on him, which encouraged him to maintain his focus on his reading skills.” One day, this young boy “ . . . saw Max walking with us in the hallway, he inevitably said loud enough for all to hear, ‘There’s my Max! He’s my teacher!’”

“With one of our 4th-grade girls, . . . As soon as Max saw her coming, he wiggled all over as she raced up to him, wrapped her arms around him, and gave him a big bear hug! Her classroom teacher told us that after she started working with Max, she never again missed a day of school, which she had done previously many times.”

Sandra and George have found that through their work with Max as Pet Partners teams, their relationship and connection with Max has deepened their understanding of the value of the human-animal bond. “Our membership in Delta Society is directly responsible for gaining this understanding. We can never thank Delta enough for this precious gift and blessing.”

“We have found that nearly every child in our school would benefit from regular visits by Pet Partners teams. With the bonds that develop in our R.E.A.D. program there is no failure, only positive support. Students completely relax, mature in their personal self-confidence, and rapidly improve their reading skills.”

Thank you Sandra, George and Max for all that you are doing to help children become better readers and more self-confident!


“Cats will be purring and dogs barking for years to come with these long awaited guides!”
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
People are healthier and happier because companion, service and therapy animals enrich and positively impact their everyday lives. And, because our beloved pets give us so much joy and provide comfort, companionship and love – we naturally want to help them live much longer, healthier lives.

I was thinking about our handsome twelve year old cat,Percy,while perusing the books in the library at Delta Society. He’s slowing down a bit and I worry about his health as he’s now officially considered a senior feline.

The publisher’s comments sparked my curiosity ~ “Quantum leaps in veterinary technology in the last few decades have nearly tripled the average life span of many pets. Today’s cats and dogs live longer, healthier lives than ever before. Vets and pet owners can now help pets face a wide range of age related conditions like kidney problems, arthritis, cancer, stroke, senility, and diabetes. Dogs and cats ages seven and older have special needs, require more emotional support, added nutritional help, and good medical care.

Amy Shojai, expert on the care and behavior of pets of all ages presents this veterinary technology in her books entitled Complete Care for your Aging Cat and Complete Care for your Aging Dog.”

These two guides are definitely worth reading! There are wonderful vignettes about people and their beloved pets interspersed throughout both books. The Golden Moments dog stories will touch your heart from the Bloodhound named Sherlock Stracers Starlight who helped find a missing person w/ Alzheimer’s to Andy, the Shetland Sheepdog, with arthritis to Kramer, a black Standard Poodle, with lupus (an autoimmune disease). The Golden Moments cat stories include Rudy, a blind Abyssinian and Daffy, a fifteen year old tortoiseshell with kidney disease and very handsome Max who had cognitive dysfunction challenges.

Each of the books provides comprehensive information explaining how cats and dogs age and how the aging process affects their bodies from the senses (eyes, ears, taste, nose) to digestion, bones and muscles, hearts and lungs.
Part One provides valuable advice about nutrition, exercise, physical therapy, grooming, accommodations and exercising your pets’ mind. You’ll learn how to observe changes in your beloved pets with behavior cues. Nursing care including pain management, nutritional support and wound and bandage maintenance are discussed as well as advanced care options as your pet ages.

I found Part Two: A-To –Z Health Concerns very informative without being too technical. Amy provides guidance on diagnosis and treatment of issues like arthritis, back problems, blindness, brain tumors, cancer, cataracts, deafness, obesity, senility, stroke as well as extensive information on heart/liver/kidney disease.

The final section of these two books offer additional resources for the reader from websites and email lists to pet insurance and care plans, to pet foods for senior animals and also what to have in your home medicine chest to help your pets.

Your pets can live longer, healthier, happier lives and Amy’s books can help guide you with your aging pet(s) care.

Dogs in Weddings
Monday, August 17, 2009

From Adam Sandler and Elton John to Gwen Stefani and Tori Spelling, celebrities are among the flock of people walking down the aisles with their pets (or at least including them in the festivities.) For many this is a sacred day to be shared with family and friends; and for some pet-owners who consider their pets their best friend and/or a part of the family, that translates into including their pet in the wedding party.

Rachel Wright, Delta Society’s Assistant Manager of the Pet Partners Program, is among many animal-lovers who decided to have pets in her wedding.

Rachel, who included her three dogs in her wedding, explains why, “They are part of our family. They made the wedding complete. They had been there for my fiancé and me during such meaningful moments in our lives. Through good times and hard times, they have been there for everything. Other people don’t see us all of the time, but our pets are always around and see another side of us.”

Her Basset Hound Labrador, Mia, was the 'flowerdog'. Rudy, her Basset Hound was the 'groomsdog' and walked with a bridesmaid; and Byron, a flat coat retriever was named “best dog”, and partook in the engagement and wedding pictures. (Mia and Byron are Pet Partners with Rachel.)

The wedding was outside at Cannon Beach, Oregon. Rachel and her husband wanted the dogs to be around for the whole weekend, so it seemed natural that they would also be included in the wedding. The weekend ended up being a very dog-friendly experience, with guests bringing their own dogs; there were about 10 - 15 dogs in attendance.

With a culture that is catering more and more to animal-lovers, from Doga (doggie yoga) to pet weddings (pets “marrying” each other), it’s no wonder that more people are walking down the aisles with their pets these days. It’s no longer a trend just reserved for celebrities or outdoor weddings, but something that has become more common among pet-owners as a whole.

Supportive family and friends seem to be an important part of including pets in a wedding. However, most people who are set on including their pets will go ahead with or without their family’s approval. Luckily for Rachel, everyone was excited and supportive about the dogs being in the wedding. Rachel and her husband grew up with a lot of animals around; so for her, she always knew she wanted to have her pets in her wedding. “It was just a given that the dogs would be included.” With family members in charge of each dog, Rachel was able to relax a little on the big day.

Weddings have been changing a lot over the years. Once they were a purely formal affair, but now people are making their wedding more unique to them, from writing their own vows to bypassing the traditional white dress. It was just a matter of time before people started inviting their pets to attend or participate. Especially now, with people putting off marriage and children until later, four-legged companions have become a more important part of their lives.

Rachel says that coordinating dogs in her wedding  made her a little nervous at first, but ultimately it was a huge comfort. “It wouldn’t have been the same without them. It is wonderful looking back at the pictures, seeing how happy they were and we were.”

For most pet owners, it’s not about having them there because it’s cute to have them, but because they belong there and it would feel incomplete without them.

There are plenty of stories to be told about people including their pets in their special occassions. We would love to hear your story and what made you decide to include your pets. Please send your stories in 300 words or less to


Pongo likes to hear a good dog tale or two……
Friday, August 14, 2009

Chris Monroe shared the adventures she and Pongo have enjoyed over the past few years as a Delta Society Pet Partners team and as an Animal Assisted Crisis Response team ~

Pongo first came into our lives as a ten week old black lab puppy. He was full of energy! My son Kyle and I were part of Whatcom Co. Guide Dogs, and embarked on the path of fostering a new guide dog. At almost a year and a half, Pongo decided that he wanted a career change. I heard about Delta Society from my sister-in-law who worked for St. Joseph’s hospital in Bellingham, WA. In June of 2006 we became a registered Pet Partners team.

We visit places two to three times a week. Pongo and I make the rounds at the hospital, including the hospital’s cancer center. He is also a well loved regular at an assisted living center that specializes in memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. The Whatcom Humane Society invited us to help out with the library reading program, where Pongo gets to hear a lot of interesting dog stories from the kids.

In January, 2008 Pongo and I completed training and became certified with National Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR). A month later, we were deployed to Northern Illinois University for the aftermath of the campus shooting. We stayed for a week, helping the students, staff and family members in their return to school. Pongo and I returned February, 2009 for the one year memorial events. Since joining AACR, we have partnered with Red Cross and Support Officers.

Over the last couple of years, we have had many interesting experiences. On one hospital visit, Pongo was hanging out with a family member on the couch in the ICU waiting area. There was a toddler that wanted to bless Pongo. He got a tissue and wiped Pongo’s nose, and then proceeded to get another one and wiped his feet off. It was really sweet and touching to watch. Pongo likes to be placed up on the bed with patients to absorb their cuddles and love.

Pongo had his 4th birthday party in a Red Cross shelter we helped out with due to flooding. He has also assisted in feeding law enforcement officers during a local shooting investigation in Alger. We attended the candle light service, and also the memorial for the fallen officer. After a fatal call, Pongo provided great stress relief during a fire station CISM debriefing. He also put his skills to work when responding to a second grade class room that lost one of their friends in a traffic accident. The students learned that Pongo was a ‘reading dog’, and organized a reading of a Dr. Seuss book. They passed around the book, each reciting a page, while another student held up a copy so we could all see the pictures. The teacher was very touched by the impromptu event.

In May of 2008 NBC’s Today Show filmed a story about AACR. It was aired in July. It was thrilling to see Pongo’s furry face on national TV. The same month there was a Homeland Security drill in Whatcom Co. The Marines utilized Pongo in their decontamination practice. The hazmat gear did not faze him at all, nor did the Black Hawk helicopters that landed close to us. On May 3, 2009 the Whatcom Humane Society awarded Pongo the Woof and Whisker’s award in recognition of the work he does.

Life is never boring in the adventures of Pongo and Chris! Thanks for all the great therapy animal work you do in your community and beyond!


Going Home: Pet Loss and Grief, Part 2
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. --Edna St Vincent Millay (American poet and playwright)

It is strange that when the end comes, you often think of the beginning. Twenty one years ago my mom was diagnosed with cancer. When I got the news I was devastated and I walked around the city in a daze. I do not know why the image of a cat popped into my head, but it did. I thought of something warm and purring, a vessel I could pour all of my pain into and feel comfort from. Later in the re-tellings of that story, I would say that I willed Oscar into my life because there he was; this orange and white fluff ball hanging on for dear life on a truck wheel, screaming out for me to come and scoop him up. He fit easily into the palm of my hand, his tail far longer than the rest of his body. He dutifully climbed onto my shoulder and proceeded to purr as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for you, let’s go home.”

In my life with Oscar, I have not seen the time pass, I have not seen the age wear his body and I have not seen a slowing of his gait. I have only felt the nurturing, consistent bond that has never wavered in its devotion and has never waned in its intensity. When I look into his eyes, he is unchanged and unchangeable.

But time has caught up with us. Somehow in my ignorant bliss, I thought it could last forever. I actually never thought of an end to us. I grew up with Oscar and under his patient gaze, learned a great deal about the things that matter the most, like unconditional love and devotion. I knew I was getting older, but Oscar seemed ageless. He still played with his yellow toy mouse (although play at this point means throw up in the air once and take a nap) and he still meows from one section of the house to get me to answer from another. But recently, recently he has been under the bed. He doesn’t seem to like it, but he seems to need to go there.

I’m not a fool; I know what “under the bed” means to a cat that normally needs to be on my lap all the time. I confess that I freaked out. I pulled him from under the bed and tried to will him back in time, back to even the day before. I am certain my eyes were of the deer-in-the-headlight variety as I went about my work. I was numb.

For the past couple blogs I have been talking about the “circle of warmth” that occurs around animals and as a result of animals. I have also come to realize that people who subscribe to that theory, people who are animal-people, also form a nurturing circle of warmth and support. I know because I felt it. As I poured my heart out about the pain of beginning to lose Oscar, I felt the support of new friends and even strangers who share the common experience of loss. If you have had a pet at some point you have felt loss, it seems to be universal among animal lovers.

I still felt dazed, but somehow not feeling alone helped. In addition to support, I discovered that self-care was also going to help me through. I was not eating well and wouldn’t you know it, I was feeling weak. In much the same way that you put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attending to others, you need to take care of yourself during trying times so you can be there when it counts. Finally there is service – to your companion. I realized that it is Oscar who is going through this transition, and he is picking up on all sorts of my stresses when he has his own, so I needed to let him take the lead and let me know what he needed. If that meant being under the bed, I needed to let it be (of course making a bed on the floor is not out of bounds). That has been my menu the past couple days, the three S’s: support, self-care and service.

So, the story isn’t over yet, and even when this chapter is, I will never, ever stop telling about the time I was walking along the street and this little orange and white kitten reached out for me from under a truck tire. I love you Oscar, you can go home when you are ready.

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the Delta staff that supported me; your compassion touched my heart and helped to heal it.  If you need support, please visit the Pet Loss and Bereavement pages on the website.


Parting is such … sorrow: Pet Loss and Grief, Part 1
Monday, August 10, 2009

Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment. --William Shakespeare

It was an innocent enough question, but one that had the impact of knocking the air out of my lungs: “So what do you picture life like after Oscar passes?” My brain grappled with the question that my well-meaning friend asked me that Sunday afternoon. In one fell swoop she had knocked me out of my brain and into my gut. I drew a blank; I literally could not imagine what the picture would look like, in fact all colors faded. For the next 5 minutes I struggled, I opened my mouth and nothing came out, I tried to say something, anything. Finally all I could muster was, “this is more than just a cat we are talking about, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is often more than just a cat, a pet. According to therapist Deborah Antinori, in her chapter from the Pet Loss Symposiums by Delta Society, a companion animal can hold both physical and symbolic attributes in our relationship with it. The physical being the unique characteristics of the individual animals and the symbolic being the “qualities pet owners ascribe to them often unconsciously, for example the pet as another child in the family, or as an ideal parent symbol (Pesso & Crandell, 1991) due to the stability they provide making them “someone” upon whom we can depend.” All of this means that our relationship with our companion pet is often multi layered and complicated. And when we are faced with considering the end of that relationship both the head and the heart search for meaning.

My head has been involved for some time in the preparation of the end, after all Oscar is 21 years old and that is about 115 in human years. Logic dictated to me a long time ago that he has had a wondrous life but his body simply cannot operate indefinitely. But I did not know exactly what was going to happen and that brought anxiety. For geriatric pets this is the time of hospice, you do not know when the end is but you do see a slowing, a weakening in his limbs, and his ability to do things he used to do. For me having a veterinarian who could answer my direct questions was crucial. I needed to understand how his old age diseases would progress, how they would manifest in his everyday habits, and what suffering would look like.

Suffering was the hard part and one that my veterinarian could not definitely answer. Weight loss, hydration and loss of muscle control would all create situations of discomfort and even pain. So we came up with two plans: a Quality of Living list and a General Welfare plan. The Quality of Living is a list of 5 things that Oscar enjoys in his life. For example, my Oscar is an independent guy, he enjoys his mobility, his ability to walk on his own and use the litter box is important. When he no longer has an item on the list, it is marked off. When all of the quality of life items are marked off we have the difficult discussion of quality in general. My veterinarian reminds me to think of Oscar first and what is best for him.

Putting Oscar first is crucial as we consider his Welfare Plan. Essentially this is a mitigation plan of what we will do as each of his diseases progress, keeping in mind that he is too old for any surgeries and some medications have side effects that will bring more pain than comfort. It also includes any end of life decisions.

All of this may sound detached and logical and that is in a way the point; when only the brain is engaged we can sort out all these uncomfortable but crucial decisions that we, as the animal’s caregiver, should make with the animal’s best interests considered and that are sometimes hard to do when we are too emotional and thinking of our desires exclusively.

I imagine it will also allow me to go into auto pilot when the time comes. Because make no mistake of it, I am certain that all of the colors will fade from my sight and I will be frozen and struggling for meaning and for air. After all, this is my “’someone’ upon whom I have depended” for so long.

In my next blog entry, I will continue my look at pet loss and grieving only this time from the heart’s vantage point.


Their bond is transcendent, something quite special.
Friday, August 07, 2009

When I met Bruegger, my youngest pup, I wasn’t looking for a second dog – and getting one would require me to move from an apartment to a house with a yard. But there was just something about him that I couldn’t describe. I had an overwhelming sense that I was meant to care for him; and care for him I did, as a surrogate mother.

For three years I had to work to keep Bruegger included in our family activities – he was always on the outskirts or in the background otherwise, aloof and independent it seemed. Then, when I was about four months pregnant, my introverted, ‘third-wheel’ dog became my closest companion. He would follow me from room to room, and behave as though he was concerned when I would leave for work – almost as if he was calling out after me as I closed the door, ‘Be safe!’

My husband and I were originally very nervous about the idea of having children because of how Bruegger would behave around them – very nervous; he would bark at them and scurry away. But throughout the last four months of my pregnancy we began to see change in Bruegger. When we would take our boys (our dogs) to the dog park, Bruegger was seemingly curious and (dare I say it) nurturing towards the children we would encounter there.

Then, the day arrived when we brought Audrey home from the hospital. We had actively utilized all of the suggestions out there for integrating a baby into a home with dogs – well, those that made sense for our family and home. Mr. Hyde, our oldest and previously most involved of our dogs, was happy to see me but kept his distance from the baby. Bruegger, however, behaved as though he was elated – so eager to be a part of the developing routine.

Throughout the next few months, Bruegger behaved as a concerned parent would; alerting me if the baby was waking up (well before she began to fuss) and clean at Audrey’s feet and face (and not just when she had food on her).The first time Audrey gave a spontaneous smile was to Bruegger – not me doing my many silly faces!

Most recently, as Audrey has begun to roll around and attempt to crawl, Bruegger is right there with her in an encouraging way showing her how to roll to her back and even scooting alongside her on the rug -- which as you can imagine, is quite hysterical to watch!

Just last night, as I was tirelessly attempting to get Audrey to eat her dinner of sweet peas, Bruegger came into the room and positioned himself just where Audrey could see him -- as if to say, 'the sooner you finish, the sooner we can play.' She immediately gave a giggly smile and eagerly finished her dinner. They make each other so happy, and Bruegger seems to really have found his calling in being her care taker.

As I watch Audrey grow with Bruegger encouraging her the whole way, I recall back to meeting this aloof pup that ‘I just had to have.’ It is in those moments that I realize that I was merely a surrogate mother to Bruegger, as his true master, his best friend, was a few years in the making. Their bond is transcendent, something quite special.


PS. I should note for others that have (or will have) babies around dogs; while I love my boys/dogs very much and they are a part of our family (my first children), they are not left unsupervised around our daughter. Although we love them, dogs are still DOGS and their behavior can be unpredictable. Prodiving supervision helps us ensure that we can keep our family together without incident (God willing).

"We've always known that pets make us feel good. We just didn't know they were good for us"
Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My husband was getting his hair cut at a local hair salon recently. While waiting for the stylist to finish, I was flipping through several Health Magazine issues and found some articles about how pets help people.

I made a comment to my husband that Delta Society was mentioned and started reading portions of the articles to him. The salon was fairly empty and several of the stylists were idle. One of the staff said their standard poodle helps their daughter calm down when she's upset. The dog will go up to the child and nuzzle her. Another mentioned that her cats help her feel less stressed when she gets home after a long day working two jobs. The cats meet her at the door with loud purrs and rub against her ….she said she feels the stress literally drain away as she pets her cats.

Another employee chimed in that his two Golden Retrievers motivate him to exercise more and that he's lost over fifty pounds in the past year by just taking them on daily walks. Our stylist has a small rescued shelter dog that she takes to visit her mom in a local nursing home. All the other residents know when she's coming and will congregate in her mother's room so they can see the dog & pet him. She said they all reminisce about their own pets and there are always lots of smiles and hugs when she leaves!

These stories reinforced what several articles in recent editions of Health Magazine have stated: "Pet owners know that their pets improve mood, but now studies are showing pets' power to heal. Recent research has linked dogs and cats to health benefits such as higher survival rates after illness, fewer visits to the doctor, and better physical and psychological well-being among the elderly.

We've always known that pets make us feel good. We just didn't know they were good for us. Now we've gone from experiencing it to having a body of evidence," says Marty Becker, a veterinary contributor to Good Morning America and author of The Healing Power of Pets.

Health Magazine also has a website which I wanted to check out once we got home from the hair salon. I thoroughly enjoyed the heartwarming slides entitled "How My Pet Helped Me Heal".

The captions enticed me to peruse further ~ How my pet helped me heal, I got a dog and got off medication, My dog is my beside nurse, Adopting dogs cured my insomnia, An Arabian stallion helped me thru depression, Our cat calms my son…all great stories you'll enjoy!

It was gratifying to see that Dr. Marty Becker (a member of Delta Society's advisory board) and Gregg Takashima, DVM (past board chair for Delta Society) are on's expert panel.

Why not cuddle your way towards better health?


My BFF is a Mule
Monday, August 03, 2009
I had just thought about looking for another mule to add to our family. It already contained a donkey, two horses, and a mule. Nothing set in stone, just a thought. I was attending a clinic taught by a mule-trainer from Montana. Just for fun, I asked if he ever sold any of his mules and he replied, "Nope." So, that was that!

Later in the weekend, he approached me and said that his wife was selling her mule and asked if I would be interested. I was thrilled but needed to know more, namely how much would she cost? I figured that a mule trained by a good trainer was going to cost a lot. After all, she lived in Montana, and I lived in Florida. But the price was right. I bought a plane ticket and off I went to Montana to meet Candy Mae.

I liked her right away. I knew when I boarded the plane I was going to buy her. Six months after meeting Candy, my husband and I hitched up the horse trailer and headed to Missouri where we were to pick her up.

When I went into the barn for the first time in Missouri and she brayed at me (mules bray instead of whinny), I got chills. How did she remember me after only meeting me once six months prior in Montana? We made the trip back to Florida and ever since consider ourselves blessed with the most dear friend, Candy.

Candy was born in Idaho and owned by a lady who loved her a lot. The lady came upon hard times and had to sell Candy to an outfitter who put her on a pack line. She didn't last but a few months at that job when the mule-trainer bought her for his wife. When I came into the picture, it had been five years later, and Candy's life had changed.

Candy is 22 years old with long eyelashes and the kindest eyes you have ever seen. She isn't a big mule, but what she lacks in size she makes up for in heart. Nowadays, we are learning the art of dressage and hope to make it to a show someday soon. We also enjoy riding in the beautiful woods in North Florida.

As two middle-aged ladies, Candy and I are in tune with each other every step of the way. Candy is part of a veterinary acupuncture school here in Florida. She is one of the animals the vets practice their needling techniques on. She is very willing to help them, standing still and allowing up to ten people to work on her at a time. I tell her that it is her job to teach the veterinarians, and she understands what she has to do.

People are drawn to Candy, especially her long soft ears. It is surprising how many people aren't sure of what a mule is. Some people ask, "What do you do with her?" She is a Mule Ambassador.

I am a nurse, so I understand the healing qualities that animals possess. I started thinking about how helpful Candy would be to people who were sick.

I came upon information about Delta Society and its Pet Partners Program. Animals serve in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc. to help people feel better. Usually these animals are cats, dogs, or birds.

I took the Delta Society class to start the process of Candy and I becoming Pet Partners. Just a month and a half ago, we were evaluated by Delta Society and passed our test with flying colors. We are now able to visit people who need some animal healing and love.

A couple of places are interested in Candy visiting, and I am sure that we will have more. We have to visit outside, of course, but I don't think that will stop us. If we can make one person feel better, we will have done our job.

Delta Society is a wonderful organization that opens the doors for human/animal interaction. I am proud of Candy for being one of the few equines, if not the only mule registered with Delta Society as a Pet Partner. My husband and I are very thankful that she is part of our family, and I am so glad to be sharing her wonderful personality with others. Candy found her forever home and I found my best girlfriend.

Leslie Robinson (guest blogger)

Leslie Robinson's story about her other mule "Big Walter the Mule Led Our Family to Alternative Healing" is in ANGEL HORSES: Divine Messengers of Hope. Leslie lives on a small farm in Bell, Florida with her husband Ric and a large animal family. She is a RN home health nurse. Candy Mae and Leslie recently received their registration with Delta Society and are now a Pet Partners team.
A Day at the Pet Festival
Saturday, August 01, 2009

Today I spent the day at the Des Moines Pet Festival (in WA) staffing a Delta Society informational booth.  It was great to meet so many people and work alongside two wonderful Pet Partners teams - Sue Olson with Ginger (Sue is also one of our newest Pet Partners Workshop Instructors) and a new team Bobbi Miller with Tanner, who after loosing a leg to cancer is now switching from agility dog to therapy dog. 

I always get energized when I do these types of events, as inevitably I have some great conversations with people.  One woman I met has trained her cats to purr on command and finds it especially helpful for her elderly friends to relax and forget about their worries.  She places a cat on their lap, asks the cat to purr, and almost instantly she sees their face light up and any tension disappear.

Another woman stopped at our booth and I shared some of the research which indicates that the presence of animals truly has positive effects on people's health.  She then commented that when she was working she'd take her dog to stay with mom during the day.  She's not working right now, and mom has been asking to visit with her dog more often.  After our little talk she told me that she was now going to make sure she took her dog to visit mom more as her mom is challenged with a couple of health issues, and maybe the dog's presence could help her.

It was a really fun day - and of course, I brought my little Belle with me, as I continue to work on her socialization.  She did awesome!  She enjoyed meeting many, many dogs - big and little, as well as couple of cats - and had a new sense of confidence about her as people petted her. 



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