|TO THE RESCUE: Found Dogs with a Mission|
|Monday, November 30, 2009|
“If the title alone doesn't get you, the images and stories will. Here are animals and humans, bonded together through the hardest of circumstances. A must-read, a must-see, a must-share.”
-Jamie Lee Curtis, actor and author
Looking for a heart-warming read? Need a gift for the dog lover or animal-rescuer in your life? Look no further.
Animal adoption activist and author Elise Lufkin has always been enthralled by the bond between humans and dogs. During her volunteer work at animal shelters over the years, she has witnessed many special relationships that blossom when dogs are adopted. To celebrate these happy endings, she teamed with Time magazine photographer Diana Walker on their third book, TO THE RESCUE: Found Dogs with a Mission. In these stories, people give much more than just a good home to their dogs – they help them to bring comfort, assistance and happiness to others in need. And the dogs not only thrive in their new homes, they show great pride in having a purpose.
Here are pets that become therapy animals (many are registered Delta Society Pet Partners), visiting hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and other places where days can seem long and dreary and distraction is welcome. There are also trained service dogs, guiding the blind or deaf, search-and-rescue dogs, avalanche dogs, and dogs that have learned to detect narcotics, bombs or even bedbugs in hotels and apartments.
Among these tales, which are illustrated with Diana Walker’s beautiful photographs, are:
• Octogenarian and Delta Society Pet Partner Billie Peters and her rescued racing greyhound, Cordial Grace, who stop by a nursing home, a veterans’ hospital, and a children’s reading program weekly.
• Veterinarian and Delta Society Pet Partner Karen Lanz and her three-legged dog Marlee, who visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
• Blind and quadriplegic inspirational speaker Maureen Pranghofer and her service dog Ally.
• Fire Captain Fred Andes and his chocolate Lab Sadie, who do arson detection work together.
In a world where cruelty and neglect impact the lives of children, adults, and animals alike, it’s inspiring to read about people who have not only saved the lives of abandoned animals, but are sharing these dogs’ remarkable healing powers with others in need.
Watch a touching video about this book - click here.
Elise Lufkin has been a strong supporter of Delta Society for many years and currently serves as an Honorary Board Member of the organization. She donates all profits from her books to shelters and other animal-related organizations. She believes that her books can make a difference to at least some of the millions of animals otherwise destroyed each year in shelters and animal control facilities, as well as to the many strays that never even reach shelters, living out their lives on the streets, suffering hunger, abuse and early death.
THANK YOU Elise for all that you do to help animals in need and for bringing awareness of the power of the human-animal bond to so many.
|When it comes to Pets, What are Kids Thankful For?|
|Friday, November 27, 2009|
I find the studies of early human development and pets fascinating. Children who grow up with pets are more likely to become confident adults-- having a pet can even help with emotional development. During infancy and early childhood, having a pet can encourage activity. A friend, Cheryl Haney, told me about her two year old Vincent and their Jack Russell Terrier Kramer, “He is absolutely thrilled whenever he can get Kramer to chase him around the house. Usually there is a ball or food involved. Vin dangles the object in front of Kramer and then runs like heck, giggling the whole way. It's hours of fun for everyone.” This sort of interaction with a family dog will result in an increase in muscle and desire for mobility while learning how to walk or crawl.
These are some proven health and well being benefits for children, but what would children say they most enjoy about having a pet?
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I did a little field work to find out what children were thankful for when it comes to their family pets. Here are some of the responses:
“I am thankful… that my dog sleeps under my covers at night to keep the monsters inside the closet.”
-Nick, 5 years old
Oli, Two year old French bull dog
“I am thankful… for my pets because I always have someone to play with. My favorite thing to do with Theodore is to cuddle with him and let him run around in the backyard. My favorite thing to do with Woody is go on walks with him and play fetch. He’s really hyper! I am thankful my mom picks up the poop and cleans the cage.”
-Marissa, 11 years old
Theodore, one year old Abyssinian guinea pig
Woody, seven year old Brittany Spaniel
“I am thankful… that I can sneak my dinner to my dog under the table.”
-Quinn, 8 years old
Sam, Eight year old mixed breed dog
“I am thankful… that Skittles knew it was me. When you have a pet, it is your pet to take care of and they like you back.”
-Jacey, 12 years old
“I am thankful… when he swims around when I come into my room. Feeding him is fun and reading him a book at night helps him sleep.”
-Lily, 6 years old
Fishy, beta fish
This was such a fun exercise to ask children – especially because this was probably the first time some of them had thought about the relationship they have with their pet. When one child was asked why they loved dogs and cats, she replied, “People could pet them and not be lonely.” It was interesting to see that regardless of age, the relationships we have with our animals have underlying similarities. They can make us feel safe, provide us with fun exercise and bring our lives new purpose.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend! Remember to give special thanks for the furry, scaly or feathered friends in our lives!
|Giving thanks for our pets….|
|Wednesday, November 25, 2009|
|As the leaves turn to orange, yellow, red and gold here in the Pacific Northwest and Thanksgiving comes along, it’s a time to give thanks for all the blessings in our lives.|
I recently asked several of my friends to share why they are thankful for the pets in their lives.
Dr. F said that when her grandmother was hospitalized with hip surgery & was not a happy camper being a patient... she took her grandmother’s orange manx kitten into the hospital room....her grandmother was so very excited and thrilled to see her kitten. Playing and petting the kitten lifted her spirits considerably and she laughed a lot.
Hedy told me she found her canine soul mate 2500 miles away from home when she was visiting her mother in Michigan. “We bonded immediately, and Zack, my (now) 8 year old cocker spaniel, is my constant companion. I am so thankful for his unwavering love and devotion. He's willing to go with me no matter where: doing yard work, making dinner, working on the computer, going to the grocery store, and so much more! He's always nearby, and a tremendous source of love and companionship. Thank you, Zack!”
Another friend shared this ~“My grandfather was diagnosed with malignant melanoma that had metastasized to his chest. His doctors estimated that he had 3 months to live. He chose to not treat the cancer, but go home and live what life he had left. One of his main priorities was taking care of his very much beloved cat, Niki. He knew that nobody would take care of Niki the way he did. His doctors were astounded that he survived nearly 5 years past his diagnosis, but he knew that he needed to get up every morning to take care of his cat. His love for her kept him going! I’m thankful that Niki helped to keep my grandfather with us for so much longer than we thought we’d have him.”
And, Diane R said “I am thankful to my Dobermans, Fraser and Chase, for reminding me that each day is a new day, to learn from the past, not wallow in it and to live in the moment. The pack dynamic/family bond, which includes extended family, is most important as family members watch out for each other and depend on each other. It brings a sense of peace.”
My adopted Seattle daughter Brookie told me “I've always felt that my kitties keep me in check. I can't go off and do anything stupid because Penny needs her meds every 12 hours.”
Wonderful and wise Sally wrote that "I am thankful for my precious little Chihuahua every minute of every day and night ... she brings joy, fun and unconditional love into the home of my retired husband and me. I have scoliosis and hip arthritis and because I have my dearest friend, Little Honi, I must go out to walk her several times a day. If I didn't have her, I would not go out to walk ... probably ever. And when my husband and/or I walk in the door, after being away, she greets us with the joy and love that a human can rarely show. Just to cuddle Honi in my arms brings great joy to my heart and our world is at peace."
When I asked my ‘sister’ in CA why she was thankful for her two cats, her response was: “Wow, that is such a big question and I really believe would take me volumes to put down in print. That said, I will try in a few words- unconditional love, warmth, stripes, solids and dots, peacefulness, worth, joy and sadness together, understanding, life, nature, freedom. I could go on using every adjective that describes unbelievable perfection."
And, one of my adopted daughters in MA says that “Sam is my English Golden Retriever. Sam provides comfort to me and makes me laugh. I'm afraid of the dark so when he is around I still feel safe even though if something popped out at us he would be the first to run. He is the sweetest dog in the whole world and I wouldn't want any other one. He is the best companion anyone could have and when he isn't around, I feel lonely.”
My long time pal Helen in Australia said her dog Diesel knows her better than anyone “and he is the only one to listen to my problems without judging me.”
“Goosepoop” lives in Florida and said “There truly are no accurate words to describe the immense amount of joy these two tiny rescued dogs give me and anyone else who comes along. I can't get home fast enough after my work day, because of the two faces that will greet me at the door. Kate is the one who gets me up and outside to walk, Tia just wants to be carried and enjoy the scenery "thank you so much"! How is it that these small creature's rule this household? I wouldn't have any other way."
“I can't imagine a world without animals! Animals give balance to life. My Chihuahua's, Mercedes and Bentley, are LOVE in motion! All I have to do is look at them and I can't help but smile and all is well in my world!” says Elke at Villa Precious Paws in Issaquah.
Pat, my wonderful neighbor on Cape Cod, has a precious fifteen year old Pekinese named Kylie. Pat says, “She’s always been my dog. I did the feeding, most of the walking, the vet, etc. However, in the past two years since my husband became disabled and can't work, he has taken on many of those duties. Kylie has been a wonderful companion for him - getting him out at least twice a day to walk. She has been very therapeutic for him as she has given him someone else to care about during his long days while I'm at work. Of course, I am also thankful for the over the top welcome she still manages to give me when I return home from work. Kylie's become our dog."
And last but not least, there’s Jackson, a soft coated Wheaton Terrier mix, who was rescued by my pal Terry. She said “Who inspires me more than this amazing, happy companion? Seeing the joy in his eyes, the spring in his step doing something as simple as taking a walk, I cannot help but smile. Together we have made new friends, I've met my neighbors, and I’ve re-established contact with old friends over at the off-leash park. I get up at 4:45 am to walk him before work, getting much needed exercise myself. And all of this is because of Jackson. My life would not be the same without him. Clearly, we were meant to find each other.”
Wishing you some very special moments and memories with your pets this Thanksgiving,
|Monday, November 23, 2009|
Looking past the many challenges brought on by the downturn in the economic climate, it has been a tremendous year.
Tremendous because I’ve been inspired every day by pets, who with their humans at their sides, are making lonely people feel loved, helping people forget about pain, motivating others to read or do their therapy, and so much more.
Tremendous, as I’ve met many new friends who are now helping us spread the word to others about how pets can make a profound impact on people’s physical and emotional health.
Tremendous, as I continue to be humbled and honored supporting our dedicated volunteers and donors, who unselfishly give of their time, talent and treasure to help those in their communities who can benefit from a little ‘animal magic’.
Thank you to all our volunteers, donors and supporters for all that you do, and best wishes for a joyous holiday season.
President & CEO
Larry is pictured with Oliver
|A Different Kind of Volunteer|
|Friday, November 20, 2009|
There is one particular volunteer who comes to Capital Hospice's Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center in Arlington, VA twice a month and always seems to make a lasting impression: she wears no make-up, she never speaks a word, and she never removes her coat – even indoors. Still, patients, families, staff and even the other volunteers love it when she visits!
Her name is Bailey and she is a 10-year-old Golden Retriever who is a registered therapy dog (a Delta Society Pet Partner). Her handler, Julie Palais, says it was clear early on that Bailey's temperament would make her particularly well-suited for visiting people in a nursing home, hospital or hospice center. "When Bailey was a puppy at the dog park, she really wouldn't play with the other dogs but she would go up to all the dog owners and try to nudge them and nuzzle them," Julie said.
On this cool, autumn evening, Julie and Bailey slowly walk the halls of Capital Hospice's Inpatient Center as they have done twice a month since 2003, looking for opportunities to engage patients, visitors, staff. "If somebody looks like they are interested, I'll ask them if they want to visit. Of course, if a patient is sleeping, I don't bother them but if there is a family member sitting next to somebody's bed, I'll ask them if they want a visit from the dog," Julie said.
One such visit recently was particularly memorable. Julie was told by the patient's family that he was a dog lover but could never have one because he lived in an apartment. "I just totally remember the smile on his face when he was petting Bailey," Julie said. Later, just before leaving the Inpatient Center, Julie and Bailey came back by his room. "I looked in and asked if they would like another visit and they said yes," Julie recalled. "He reached over and petted her. He was beaming. He just seemed happy when he was petting her. It was clear he really enjoyed her visit and that it was important."
But it wasn't until a few days later when Julie learned the man had died that she realized the visit had affected her, as well. "It really made a difference to know that Bailey had made an impact on his life, near the end."
Julie says her own life is very hectic, often stressful. But bringing Bailey to the Inpatient Center helps put things in perspective. "It's sort of a reality check for me to see what's important in life and forget about the things that I think are so critical," Julie said. "Even though I may have had a busy day or a bad day at work, that's nothing compared to what a lot of other people are facing. I'm just glad we can be of some help."
Spencer Levine (guest blogger)
About the photo above: Julie and Bailey on one of their visits. "Bailey is just naturally inclined to go up to pepole and get friendly," says Julie. Photo courtesy of Spencer Levine, (C) 2009.
|I love you, Priss……..|
|Wednesday, November 18, 2009|
Rennie had just started working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and one day on her way to lunch, she saw a dog, of all things, going into the hospital. Of course Rennie had to stop and meet the pooch because she loves dogs and had recently adopted a puppy from a local rescue group. She soon realized her little Priscilla Louise was a special girl and thought…do I have a job for you! The place they wanted to visit required teams to be registered with Delta Society. And, after attending several obedience and dog training classes for a couple of years, they were ready for an evaluation from Delta Society. Fast forward and Rennie & Priscilla Louise have been a Pet Partners team for 3 years!
They regularly visit Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Methodist Children’s Home and go to a low-income apartment building as part of the Little Rock Junior League Night Owls program.
I asked Rennie if there are any “aha” moments that had meant a lot to her or the people they visited.
“There are lots of memorable moments… both happy and sad. But two stick out the most. We were asked to do a visit with a Spanish-speaking patient and their family – but an interpreter would not be available for us. I was lucky enough that before the visit, I got all of Priscilla’s tricks and commands translated to Spanish just in time. My Spanish wasn’t that great but Priscilla picked up on the hand signal and Spanish commands quickly.
The hospital visit had the parent having fun taking pictures and helping me with my pronunciation, while the little girl wanted Priscilla to go home with her to be her dog. It was a great distraction from their stay at the hospital. The big moment was when we returned for a visit. The patient had a photo of her and Priscilla in a frame beside her bed, and had matching doggie stickers for her and Priscilla to wear. It is so sweet and touching to think my dog that was rescued from an animal shelter, has made such a memorable impact on a sick child and her family”, said Rennie.
Another moment occurred over the course of multiple visits over many months… a little boy that really didn’t show much emotion played with Priscilla for a short time every other week… He would walk her (on a 2nd leash), then give her treats and water. After every visit, he would walk to the car, and open the door and load up Priscilla’s things and tell Rennie and Priscilla good bye with little emotion. Months later, when it was finally time for him to go home… by that time, he had opened up to his counselor, and was able to tell Priscilla what a good girl she was and that she was special. “On our last trip to the car, says Rennie, “he put her in and said “I love you Priss. That showed me what a huge improvement there had been in his emotional and social behavior skills. I think I cried all the way home.
Animals really have such a huge impact on people’s lives; I’m honored to be able to share my Priscilla with so many others.
I believe in the human-animal connections so much that I wanted to be more involved. I became a Pet Partners Team Evaluator last year. It is great to volunteer at this level and see the new teams and just imagine all of the wonderful special moments they will have together.
Not every pet can be part of a Pet Partners team doing Animal-Assisted Activities/Therapy. It’s important for people to know that too. It takes special animals and special humans to be successful teams.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my other dog… Gidget Polly Wiggles. While Priscilla is a great dog for a Pet Partners team, Gidget entertains and makes people smile with her antics as an agility dog. As an agility team, we don’t always do things right, but we always have fun, and that too, is part of the human-animal connection.
I always joke that I’m the soccer mom for my fur kids… Priscilla has to go do her ‘work’ at the hospital and Gidget has to go to agility ‘practice’ – if it’s not someone getting a bath, it’s someone learning a new command/trick. Along with all our work comes some fun stuff too. My dogs were named the most spoiled a few years ago in a ‘Herstyle’ special edition of the local newspaper… tons of collars, leashes and dog classes put them over the top.”
A few weeks ago, Priscilla was named Arkansas’ #1 Spoiled Rotten dog by the readers of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette! It was a photo contest (photo attached – she’s in a hula skirt). Lots of the people Priscilla had met during visits left sweet messages and comments. It was astounding to Rennie just how many people voted and what great things people had to say about Priscilla. The contest was in 4 rounds, so eight weeks of voting… That was a lot of clicking by people and Rennie really appreciated it. We all can’t wait to see her in her ‘Spoiled Rotten’ sash!
As Rennie said to me - “Love your pets, reward them positively and enjoy all that they share with you!”
High Paws to Rennie, Priscilla and Gidget ….. Connecting Pets and People!
|A Veteran's Day Experience|
|Monday, November 16, 2009|
I started visiting the Douglas T. Jacobson State Veteran’s Home in Port Charlotte, FL in the spring of 2009 after completing my Pet Partner training and evaluation. I choose the veteran’s home because I am also a U.S. Navy veteran who served on active duty for 20 years. While visiting the home over the summer, I got to meet the widow of Douglas T. Jacobson who asked me if I would be interested in speaking for their Veteran’s Day celebration. I was so thrilled and honored by her request and let her know immediately that I would love to be their guest speaker.
Since I am a guidance counselor at a local elementary school, I thought it would be great to include our Student Council President in the celebration. On November 10th, the Student Council President, my Pet Partner Diego, and I were the guests of honor at the Veteran’s Day celebration. It was such a rewarding experience to not only be able to speak about the meaning of Veteran’s Day, but also to wear my uniform once again and have my Pet Partner Diego by my side for the event.
After my speech, I got to meet some of the families of the veteran’s home residents. I met the family of one resident in particular who rarely speaks, but repeats Diego’s name over and over again when I visit. His family told me how thankful they were that Diego came to visit with their Dad because they knew how much he loved dogs and how much he loved Diego. It was very heart-warming to know that my visits with Diego were making a difference in his life.
Guest Blogger and Delta Society Pet Partner with our affiliate Gulf Coast Pet Partners
|Pets, Stress and the Holidays|
|Friday, November 13, 2009|
Holidays can be stressful. One thing to keep in mind this season when you’re making your to-do list and checking it twice: spend extra time with your pet. The unconditional love and acceptance we get from animals is so beneficial that it has been proven to reduce stress and lift people’s moods. In fact, studies show that spending time with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, nerve transmitters which have gratifying and calming properties in humans. Keep that in mind this season if out of town guests leave you feeling strained, if cooking for a large group is making you overwhelmed, or perhaps the thought of the post office at this time of year has you feeling distraught. A little extra time cuddling, or a walk through the park with your pet might just do the trick.
While your pets can definitely have a calming effect on you, you may also choose to share some of that good cheer with your friends and neighbors. Unfortunately the holidays can make some people feel alone or sad, perhaps a visit from you and your pet could brighten their day. Throughout the holiday season, we are reminded that it is better to give than to receive-- people do this in many ways, maybe by collecting toys for homeless children, or serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter. As our Pet Partners know, there are a number of ways to include your animal when giving back to the community. The joy brought into a home or hospital cannot be unwrapped, but is a gift best measured in smiles and heartwarming moments.
I listened this past Tuesday night at a Discovery Session as Pet Partner Teri Burke shared a story about an experience she had visiting an elderly woman who was suddenly placed in a nursing home – the woman was angry and shut herself off to everyone in her new surroundings. Her caregivers watched in awe as this woman opened up and shared a wonderful visit with Teri and her dog. While I listened to Teri’s story, I couldn’t help but think that the holiday season would be a sad and lonely time to be away from the comforts of home. Whether circumstances have led a person to a nursing home or hospital, bringing the joy of an animal during the holiday season is such a wonderful gift.
The calming effects your pet could have on you or on others could be a tremendous way to reduce stress this holiday season. Is it any wonder why Santa surrounded himself with so many reindeer?
|Animals are indeed special and important in our lives ~|
|Wednesday, November 11, 2009|
|Today is Veteran’s day here in the United States. It is a day dedicated to acknowledge the sacrifice and dedication of our US veterans. As a military ‘brat’, this is an important day of reflection for me to honor the memory of my Marine Corps father, my Navy grandfather as well as my numerous Navy, Coast Guard, and Army uncles, aunts, cousins, children, friends and neighbors who’ve bravely served our country … some of whom are currently stationed overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Korea.|
Seems an appropriate day to share two excellent books about military personnel and the dogs they saved….a testament to the enduring bond humans and animals have. I think you’ll be inspired by both of these books, I am!
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
by Major Brian “Heed” Dennis, Mary Nethery and Kirby Larson.
Nubs was a wild dog in Iraq who apparently never had a home or a human caregiver. But Nubs’ life changed when he met Marine Major Brian Dennis. The two formed a strong friendship; Brian shared his meals with Nubs and offered this Iraqi dog of war the care and attention he had never had before. Nubs became part of Dennis’s human “pack” until duty required the Marines to relocate seventy miles away and were forced to leave poor Nubs. Nubs had no way of knowing that Marines are not allowed to have pets!
This book chronicles the astounding journey that took Nubs through a freezing desert, filled with unbelievable dangers, to find his friend. Major Dennis then set on a personal mission to save Nubs that touches the hearts of people worldwide. Nubs and Major Dennis’ tale reinforces to readers that friendship endures across continents, and yes, even between species.
This book offers a powerful message that animals are indeed special and important in our lives and deserve our respect and kindness.
Saving Cinnamon: The Amazing True Story of a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home
by Christine Sullivan
“Set against the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, Saving Cinnamon chronicles the love story of Navy Reservist Mark Feffer and a stray puppy he bonded with while stationed outside of Kandahar. When Mark is about to return stateside, he decides to adopt Cinnamon and sets up her transport back to the U.S. But the unthinkable happens and Cinnamon is abandoned by the dog handler who was supposed to bring her home, and disappears without a trace. Mark and his family start a desperate search for the puppy which lasts 44 days and ends dramatically when Mark and Cinnamon are finally reunited.”
Randy Grim, Founder of Stray Rescue; author of Miracle Dog and Don’t Dump the Dog says, "At the heart of Cinnamon's story is the fact that love is the most powerful energy on the planet.
Saving Cinnamon is a wonderful tale of compassion and perseverance. This book reminds us of how many good people there are throughout the world and proves that animal’s lives bring meaning to our own and make life worth living.”
Veterans, I honor you and appreciate your service! Semper Fi.
|Therapy Dogs Bring a Ray of Sunshine |
|Monday, November 09, 2009|
|We recently received this very special note at Delta Society and thought you might like to read it as well. Thank you to Jamie for giving us permission to do so. And, thank you to the Pet Partners teams who give so much of their time and themselves to help others.|
My son was in a car accident September 13th and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in ICU at Brackenridge for 16 days and then transferred to Texas NeuroRehab Center. The staff is wonderful and the facility is welcoming. TNR really tries to help patients feel at home during their recovery process but nothing compares to home.
We tried to bring a little home to him by posting photos of Josh's family, friends, and pets on his bulletin board. Josh wasn't so excited about the family or friends, but the pet pictures made him smile. He truly missed his 135 lb Great Pyrenees mix named Hercules and his 22 lb cat, Apache. Unfortunately we couldn't bring the animals to see him. TNR suggested we have the therapy dogs come by our room as an alternative.
When the first dog, Lucy, came by Josh lit up like a Christmas tree. Lucy made him laugh when she licked his face. Then Mei Mei stopped in. Josh LOVED her because she laid on his lap while he stroked her. After that, Solovina came by. She was a bit of a bed hog which made him smile.
The visit from the dogs really gave Josh a break from the monotony here. It also encouraged him to talk a bit more. When people came to visit him, we prompted them to ask about the dogs. Josh was able to answer their questions and experience a basic conversation. He even keeps Mei Mei's picture up on his board and it gives him something to look forward to.
Thank you for providing this opportunity to the patients. It is difficult to see your son struggle to regain basic skills such as walking, talking and eating. There have been very few moments where Josh could just forget about his problems and feel like a normal kid. The presents and cake we had to celebrate his 18th birthday didn't even bring him joy. Seeing him enjoy the therapy dogs was like a ray of sunshine. I could see the old Josh peeking out of his damaged shell and it gave me hope.
Pictured above: Delta Society Pet Partners teams: Susan Ribnick with Solovina, David Suissa with Lucy, Shiu Mei Bassette with Mei Mei. Photograph courtesy of Susan Ribnick (c) 2009.
|Emily’s Recovery: Stuck between a rock and a soft place|
|Friday, November 06, 2009|
I don’t think I will forget the Saturday afternoon when I met my friend Emily for lunch and she told me she had to go in for heart surgery. I sat there and stared down at my appetizer. Then I looked up at her face, and again back down at my plate. There was an awkward and unusual silence between us, rare for a pair of 26 year old girls sitting at a bar. I have been a supportive friend throughout my life, but problems typically revolved around exams or breakups. When it came to heart surgery, I just wasn’t sure what to say.
I couldn’t help but feel that as much as our circle of friends tried to be there for her, Emily must have felt incredibly alone. We could empathize, but could we truly understand? Emily lived with a severe and rare heart problem, her heart never stopped growing and its large size was now life threatening. She returned from California one week later after a successful surgery, but with new limitations, the first of which was a seven week bed rest. She became increasingly angry with herself because recovery took longer than she anticipated. She spent hours by herself with very little mobility, and in a lot of pain, but thankfully she was not completely alone. Her boyfriend’s dog, Whistler, was at her side when everyone left for work. Whistler was there as a constant companion, and an unflappable source of comfort throughout her recovery. Not only was he making her days better, but we all felt a little more at ease knowing he was there with her.
Whistler (who was normally up by 5 a.m. each morning and ready to start the day) would stay in bed in the mornings as long as Emily would- some days if her pain was bad he would stay at her side until the afternoon. He loved to cuddle and she needed it. It was plain to see that Emily and Whistler had formed a very strong bond over the weeks. She credited Whistler for keeping her out of the post-surgery depression that the doctors had warned her about, and confided in us that she only did her mandatory ½ hour exercise each day because Whistler needed a walk.
As friends, we visited when we could, but we were still unsure about how to help Emily. We brought nail polish, magazines and stories about our days – though entertaining, I doubt we had a hand in her recovery. This dog was so easily able to do for Emily what she needed, where I fumbled. Whistler had a natural healing power that friends and family could not conjure up. For that, and for Emily’s amazing recover, I am truly amazed and grateful.
|Gypsy’s sweet temperament provides solace …..|
|Wednesday, November 04, 2009|
While walking the beach at Paine’s Creek on Cape Cod two weeks ago, an adorable yellow Labrador came bounding up to me. Her owner was yelling at her to stop jumping on me while I was laughing and petting the sweet girl. He came up and apologized for her behavior and started to grab her collar – I told him not to worry, that she was delightful and that I loved her enthusiasm and sweet temperament. Steve introduced himself and said that his dog’s name was Gypsy.
I threw some driftwood for Gypsy which she retrieved many, many times…will admit my arm gave out long before her energy level did! And Steve and I started chatting about our dogs & life in general, as dog owners usually do, while Gypsy chased the flying driftwood.
He shared with me that he was walking the dog, which he’d rescued from a local shelter, while his wife was being cared for by a nurse. His wife is dying of cancer and he takes a walk on the beach every morning to help give him the strength and courage to go back to their house and be brave, positive, upbeat and supportive to his wife as she battles this insidious disease.
Steve had tears in his eyes as he spoke about his wife but then smiled when he told me what a gift Gypsy has been in their lives these past two years. As his wife’s disease has progressed, Gypsy has been the constant in their lives and her antics & presence provides smiles, comfort and love to both of them. She will lie next to his wife and take naps with her and most evenings the three of them watch movies together – yes, all three sharing the popcorn bowl. I hugged him and kissed Gypsy as he left to get back to his wife and thanked him for sharing his story.
I saw Gypsy several more times at the beach during my fifteen days at our Cape house – every time she’d run up to me wagging her tail while giving me that Labrador smile. Steve and I would talk about how his wife was doing and he’d update me on Gypsy’s antics since I’d last seen them. Each time we’d meet, I could see Steve relax - the tenseness in his face would disappear and he’d end up laughing and smiling as he talked about Gypsy. Clearly Gypsy helps Steve as he copes with the harsh reality that his wife is dying and his life will be changed forever.
The last day before leaving the cape, I walked the beach with my usual cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee thinking about my parents and how grateful I am that they gave me their house filled with wonderful memories everywhere I turn. Suddenly I heard pounding paws on the sand and joyful barking in back of me. I turned around and yep, it was Gypsy running up to say good morning. Steve came up, coffee in hand as well, and we strolled thru the low tide picking up shells and tossing driftwood for Gypsy.
I talked about my parents and how much I miss them and he talked about his wife and their life together. We agreed that without Gypsy introducing us, we’d have never met & would’ve missed the opportunity to get to know one another and share our life stories.
We’re both grateful to Gypsy ~ she has given me a new friend and certainly provides daily joy and comfort to Steve and his wife.
Yet another example of the special benefits of pets,
|Monday, November 02, 2009|
I first met Rerun as a volunteer at the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina. I was informed that he was severely abused and neglected and was brought back for all his issues, hence the name Rerun. He had separation anxiety and was literally scared of his own shadow. I knew I had to do more, so I became his foster mom.
The second he was in the house, he hopped up on the couch and proclaimed he was home. Now meeting my husband was a whole different story. AJ would walk in the room and Rerun would start to shake. That’s when the real work began. I started walking him around our neighborhood and then signed him up for a basic training class. Eventually, he graduated from the advanced obedience class with flying colors.
In the meantime, I had started to work at the same kennel and took him with me every day. He was turning a corner and becoming a more confident dog. Now I could never be too far out of sight or Rerun would get nervous and all his abandonment issues would come back. That’s when I knew I was meant to be his forever Mama. We officially adopted Rerun and our journey continued.
Then one day at the kennel, a woman with Delta Society was evaluating dogs for their therapy registration. I was fascinated by the process. She explained to me the therapy dog’s role and I knew this was Rerun’s destiny.
We became registered in 2005 and never looked back. Rerun and I volunteered as a therapy team in the pediatric rehabilitation unit at our local children’s hospital working specifically with brain trauma children. Our very first visit was Halloween and we met a little boy who was having a hard time looking to the right. We were told that he loved dogs and Rerun was placed on the right side of his wheelchair. Within a few minutes, the little boy had turned his head to look at Rerun and placed his hand on Rerun’s head. I heard a squeal from his mother.
“He hasn’t used that hand since his accident. This is a miracle!”
Needless to say I was hooked. Rerun always put a smile on the faces of everyone he met. We worked with PT, OT, Speech, and Recreation Therapists to help the children grow.
On the day of our visits, I would say “ Okay Rerun time to see the kids.” and he would jump into the tub, get his bath, and talk to me in the car the whole way to the hospital.
The staff and patients would wait for us to come so they could give him some loving. He almost seemed to have a sixth sense around these tiny little children. He knew when to move in closer or when to back away. He would even let them fall asleep on his back. He performed miracles every week. We continued volunteering at the hospital for two more years.
Then things started to change. Rerun was losing weight and didn’t want to eat. Eventually he stopped eating and started collapsing on his back legs going down stairs. X-rays confirmed my worst fears. He had cancer and degeneration of his spine. I felt all the air go out of the room. I just sat on the floor in the vet’s office and hugged him for a long time.
We went home and tried to get him as comfortable as possible. When he got worse overnight, I knew what needed to be done. Rerun died peacefully in my arms with my face the last thing he saw and my voice the last thing he heard.
I think about him every day. He suffered tremendously for the first half of his life and touched so many others in the second half of his life. Rerun will never be forgotten.
Pet Partner with Rerun 2005 - 2009
Pet Partner with Jitters beginning in 2009