Wandering Waldo
Friday, July 30, 2010
Growing up, we never purchased a pet. We never even officially adopted a pet - they always adopted us. I think our house emanated a “WE’RE SUCKERS FOR UNLOVED ANIMALS!” vibe that broadcast out to all the homeless pets in a 30-mile radius. They’d somehow make their way to us, whether they were dogs, cats, iguanas or tarantulas, as if on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land.

That’s how we got Waldo, a gorgeous beast of a black lab. I don’t remember the day he showed up; he just sort of integrated himself into our family as if he’d been there all along. We didn’t realize at the time that this was his modus operandi – wandering from home to home looking for someone to shower him with love, in the form of food.

My mom put up flyers and called local shelters, trying to find his original owner. During all of this, my brother and I secretly hoped no one would contact us because Waldo was turning out to be hugely lovable and entertaining dog. We never got the call from his owner so we took Waldo to the vet, gave him a collar and ID tag and welcomed him to the family. And then the calls started coming in.

We lived in a fairly unpopulated area and the dogs were free to roam during the day and we’d put them in the fenced pen at night. It turns out that Waldo was making the most of his free time during the day. We were getting calls from people MILES away saying “We found your dog! He must have been missing for a long time because he was STARVING! “ The calls usually came in around 10 am…and Waldo was last seen at our house eating his breakfast that morning. I think he must have mastered public transit to cover the distances that he did.

These poor people told us how Waldo would wander into their garage looking pathetic and they would feed him dog food or cat food or in one case, burgers straight off the grill. It finally dawned on us that this was Waldo’s shtick. Even though he was large and CLEARLY NOT STARVING he had the pitiable look – you know, the look – down pat and he used it like a professional panhandler. That dog would do anything for more food.

Mom promptly got him a new ID tag that said “Wandering Waldo. Please do not feed me. My owners will pick me up,” and listed our phone number.

Waldo learned quickly that he wasn’t going to trick people into feeding him anymore so he advanced his game and started walking up to the Safeway a couple miles from our house. During the summer months, they would keep the economy sized bags of dog food outside of the store and he’d just help himself to them. Mom and the store manager became well acquainted during her many trips to Safeway to pick up Waldo, and pay his bill after his feeding frenzies.

We’d watch their homecoming, mom behind the wheel looking appropriately annoyed, and Waldo sitting in the passenger seat looking through the windshield with a sheepish grin on his face. I’m not going to lie; my brother and I got a huge kick out of Waldo’s shenanigans!

Waldo REALLY tested mom’s patience when we got a call at 2 am from the Safeway deli manager informing us that Waldo had escaped his pen and wandered up to Safeway. This time, he figured out how to use the automatic doors, made his way to the deli section and was helping himself to packages of fresh meat. That was an expensive trip.

At the time, I didn’t understand why my mom would get so irritated with Waldo. I thought his antics were hilarious and I loved the “Whoops, guess I really screwed up again!” face he always put on when he returned home. Of course, I wasn’t the one driving around the countryside picking him up a couple times a week, or worse yet, getting the 2 am call from an angry deli manager.

It’s amazing what we put up with from our pets. But we do it because they’re ours. Our family. Our charges. Our hearts. And they return the favor 100-fold every single day, by overlooking our faults and showering us with unbridled enthusiasm and unconditional love. I am blessed every time one of those goofy critters adopts me – should everyone be so lucky!

Guest Blogger
Molly Steere

Molly Steere is a freelance writer and unabashed animal lover. You can contact her through her website www.mollyflewthecoop.com. Pictured is Molly Steere with her husband Toby and her dogs Otis and Maggie.

To learn more about more ways in which animals can make a difference in your life, visit our Resource Center.

From Afghanistan with Love
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The life of an animal in Afghanistan isn’t easy. They are rarely kept domestically, often abused and pretty much fending for themselves on the streets. They compete with each other looking for food, water and shelter. Some find comfort and safety in packs, most are alone and some, unfortunately, don’t make it at all. And then there are the lucky few who find everything they need and more in the troops that take them in.

Not only are these bonds benefiting the animals, they’re also a great morale boost for the troops befriending them. Caring for these lost cats and pups gives the troops something positive to focus on. Many troops have cats or dogs waiting for them back at home, and having the opportunity to give some TLC to these strays may give the troops a little slice of home and familiarity.

These soldiers know they’re doing the right thing helping the animal out, but the reality is, they’re helping each other. Research has shown that pets can be great therapy for those suffering from loneliness, depression and anxiety. These little bundles of fur can soften the hardest of hearts, as these pictures show. Strong men can always afford to be gentle. Nothing is as strong as gentleness, and nothing is as gentle as true strength.


Kitties Rescued by US Marine Soldiers in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, in the midst of war, many animals are lost and separated from their family. Many are found later by troops from the US, UK and Canada. Soldiers rescue these animals and get help from rescue groups that help them send these animals out of the country and to a forever loving home that they deserve.

Three US marine soldiers, Brian Chambers, Chris Berry and Aaron Shaw, started a mission to help bring home the kittens they have befriended while serving in Afghanistan. With generous donations from cat lovers and help from Nowzad Dogs animal rescue, Kiki and Keykey, two lovely ginger kitties, have successfully made it home in the US... (to continue reading this story and to see LOTS of pictures of these precious kittens, please visit the LoveMeow.com website.)

Please visit our Human-Animal Bond Resource Center to learn more about the health benefits animals provide to us.
We Should All Be So Lucky
Monday, July 26, 2010
He’s short, missing his two front teeth, will probably never stop barking at strangers, and sometimes he smells stinky. But he’s also silly and sweet, and my best friend. Charlie, my 7-year-old red min-pin, blessed my life 5-and-half years ago when I adopted him from a Seattle-area animal rescue group. At the time, I thought I was lucky to have found him. Now I know he found me. And he helped me find myself.

The search started in my mind a few years before I started actively looking for a dog … about as soon as I moved out of my family home to live on my own! But the time felt right when I was in my early 20s; I had secured a long-term relationship, a house (with a yard!) and financial security of some sort. Of course it was time for a dog!

Alert, active, bossy and less than 15 pounds, miniature pinchers were not the breed I originally had in mind. I’d been raised with a gentle giant: a German Sheppard/Great Dane mix with an easy-going nature. Of course I wanted a similar dog! But fate crossed my path: A friend had just adopted a miniature pincher and I was smitten the little pup! I knew the breed was high energy, and I also knew I was not. So I searched and hoped and waited to find that perfect mixture: A spirited red minpin with tons of personality and a lazy disposition.
Through my research, I came across Charlie (then named Peter), an 18-month-old minpin. Interest piqued, I read a line in his bio: “Loves to sit and watch TV.” That was all I needed to hear! And despite the fact that the first thing he did when we met was pee on my front door (and later, my door to the back yard), it was love at first sight. He seemed so gentle and eager to love, I knew I’d found my dog.

That Christmas, Charlie posed awkwardly in his first holiday card. Fearful of the giant Christmas tree next to him, he wiggled impossibly as I tried to get him to sit still, but eventually I got the perfect shot. Family and friends, meet Charlie Brown!

By the following year, our lives had downsized a bit: No more significant other, no more house, no more yard. That Christmas was spent on in our second-floor apartment celebrating the New Year with a new life and new adventures. To commemorate the occasion, Charlie peed on the houseplant that I had decorated as that year’s Christmas tree.
With the new digs, came a new routine. No more shared responsibilities or someone to walk him when I wasn’t able to get home in time. No more dual income to help pay for those pesky vet bills, or take him to the park or play with him. I had a roommate who enjoyed Charlie’s company, but he was my responsibility, 100 percent.

This was actually ok, because I got to have him all to myself.

In those first months and onward, he transitioned from my cute pet dog that I loved as a mom might love her child, to my friend. I let his training lapse, and we definitely became mutually exclusive. He was a support system in a way I can’t really explain. He was the only one who had known my previous life as well as I did, so even though he never gave me his opinion or a real hug, he seemed to understand this new development at a deeper, visceral level.

After my break up, Charlie became my second in command; my confidante; my friend. We hung out; we both loved giving – and getting – attention, cuddling, late night walks and cheese. He listened to me without ever talking back, he made sure I woke up every morning when I tried to ignore my alarm, he kept my secrets secret and without judgment, and forced me to meet new people (like my dog trainer!). When I was happy, he would jump up and down in celebration. When I was sad, he would quietly, intuitively slink up to me, curl his body next to me and tuck his neck into the nook of my own.

For the past few years, I’ve been in a new relationship, and again the life I have with Charlie has shifted as our roles continually redefine themselves. He will always be my darling dog, but now I share Charlie with another person who I also love very much, and it has been exciting to see how Charlie has grown with this new person in his life, in our lives. And it has been wonderful to watch as he and Charlie have formed their own bond together. Together, we are a quite a trio!

Charlie leads with his heart, and is a constant reminder for me to do the same. I adore that he gives everything with his whole being; without cynicism, inauthenticity or ulterior motives. That’s a pretty big order to fill from such a silly little pup, but Charlie doesn’t think twice about how he feels, or how to show it. He just does it.

Sarah Haas
Guest Blogger

Sarah Haas is a freelance writer and the Operations Assistant for Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, where she also serves as a foster family, providing animals in need with temporary housing until they are adopted. Motley Zoo Animal Rescue is dedicated to finding homes for animals in need. To learn more, visit the Motley Zoo website.

To learn more about more ways in which animals can make a difference in your life, visit our Resource Center.

Lori ~

Looking for Therapy Dog Stories
Monday, July 26, 2010
Dr. Dawn Marcus is writing a new book and is looking for stories of how therapy dogs have made a difference in hospitals.  If you think you might have a story, please read on.  (This project is not affiliated with Delta Society - we are posting as a courtesy, so any questions you may have about it, please email Dr. Marcus at the email address provided in the last paragraph.)

Everyone with a dog learns to understand the amazing healing power of dogs. You all know how my two terriers are hospital therapy dogs. Through my dogs, I have witnessed the amazing ability of dogs to comfort the sick and give strength to their caregivers. I think all of us lucky enough to be on the end of a therapy dog’s leash have had days where we left visits engulfed in emotion and teary-eyed from the incredible visits we’d been blessed to be part of.

So I’m now asking you to share your stories with me! I’m beginning a new book focusing on the healing power of dogs and dog therapy. I will be including interviews and photographs describing how people’s own dogs and formal therapy dogs have helped them through health problems. I’m looking for stories from patients, caregivers, and therapy dog handlers.

Do you have a therapy dog story you’d like to share?

Have you had an illness and been helped through it by a furry friend or a therapy dog?

Have you had a family member of friend who has found facing the challenges of illness were eased by having a dog in the picture?

Does your dog seem to understand when you’ll be sick even before you do?

Do you take care of the sick and look forward to visits from therapy dogs, knowing that they’ll cheer you as well as your patients?

Email Dawn at dawn@dawnmarcusmd.com. Please put the words “Dog Therapy” in your message’s subject line. She's looking forward to speaking with you and hearing about you and the amazing dogs in your life.  You can read more of Dr. Marcus' writings by logging on to the Fit As Fido website.

Eye of the Tiger
Friday, July 23, 2010
This month has been a doozy for me and my pets. First, Gracie (my cat) came down with a stomach bug shortly before we left for our vacation. When we returned, Gracie was all better, but Moki and Marta were diagnosed with “kennel cough”. We didn’t board them, so I have no idea where they contracted it. After a week and a half of antibiotics, they’ve made a full recovery. And then there’s Oscar…

I adopted Oscar in 2002 knowing he was FIV+, which is very similar to HIV in humans. FIV attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. Last year, Oscar weighed 16lbs. He wasn’t overweight for a cat his size, but in one month, he lost 3lbs. Tests were conducted and in the end, they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He wasn’t exhibiting any of the “textbook” behaviors a sick animal would, making his diagnosis even harder. In the end, he maintained his weight and all was well until we got back from our trip a couple weeks ago.

It was then I noticed there were “presents” being left in my closet and bathroom. I thought the cats were just acting out because I left them. But I realized something was very wrong, so off to the vet we went. He weighed in at 12lbs. He had an infection in his mouth. There was blood in his stools and the vet said he might have some sort of blockage and/or internal bleeding in his small intestine. As the vet was outlining our next steps, my heart was breaking. I mean, this is my baby boy, my big lumpy cuddler. He can’t be dying! It took everything I had to not completely break down realizing this could be the beginning of the end.

When I got home, I did some more research on FIV+ cats and their illnesses. I found many stories of cats whose lives were extended thanks to new treatments and medications. I’m sure 15-20 years ago, one of my “next steps” might have been euthanasia since pets didn’t have the life-saving options they do now. Pets can now get dialysis, sonograms, chemotherapy along with an array of medications. Most people consider their pets to be family members or companions, not property and a survey taken in 2007 found that the human-animal bond has a close association with the total spending on veterinary care. In 2006, U.S. consumers spent more than $23 billion on veterinary care, compared to $7 billion in 1991. Amazing.

Oscar was given antibiotics for his mouth infection, subcutaneous liquids to rehydrate him and some pain meds to help him poop pain-free. His blood and urine tests came back normal. Oscar’s appetite is healthy, he’s active and playful and his poops are back to normal! We’re not out of the woods yet as we’re still awaiting the results of a couple other tests, but all signs point to “feeling good!”

My dad is a big proponent of the “positive thinking” method; that you can “will” yourself well… kind of like “mind over matter”. I truly believe Oscar is doing just that. He’s not letting the disease get the upper hand. He’s got a lot of fight left in him and shame on me for succumbing to the notion that this is the end. I will fight with him all the way. He has the eye of the tiger!

~ Stephanie

Delta Society has a Pet Loss & Bereavement section on its website that can help you get through events like this. One article in particular helped me understand that the grieving process can even start when an animal is sick.

A Child’s Compassion for Animals
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Our family has had many different pets over the years: Dogs, cats, frogs, lizards, turtles, and even a snake once. CC (our 7-year old grandchild) has always had a compassionate heart for all of them. When we learned about a shelter in the area that was ran by just volunteers she couldn’t wait to get involved. This was an excellent opportunity for her to learn and care for many different animals. What made this shelter different than most is their policy to never have any of the animals put to sleep. The animals they tended to would live at the center until they were adopted. If it took a week or a year for them to find a home, it didn’t matter.

When CC learned that many of the animals were there because they had no home, it really bothered her. She couldn’t understand how that could be. When she asked if there were lots of other animals without a home we told her unfortunately yes. She knew I like to build things out of wood so she asked if I could build homes for animals that couldn’t find the center. It made perfect sense to her.

So that’s what we did. About 3 weeks later (and $400 lighter) we had two large dog houses. She took part in just about every stage of building them. She helped sand, paint, and hammer on both. It was a project that she felt good about. When we were done she made a small sign and we put them in our front yard to sell (the money would then be donated to the shelter to help).

CC learned that it took a lot of work and dedication, from volunteers, in caring for the animals. It was a lot more work than she first expected. The mop used to clean the brushing rooms stood 3 feet taller than her. She didn’t mind. She learned how important it was to keep clean cages and fresh water for all of them. Her favorites were the cats. The dogs scared her but she didn’t shy away from doing what she could to help them either. We were proud to see such a caring side to her.

These two dog houses sat in our yard for a good month. When the economy went south nobody was buying any extra’s. It came at a time when many families were doing everything they could to keep their own homes. We decided to then donate them to the center for a fundraiser they were putting on. These actions helped out in two separate ways. One serving as a shelter for two different family pets and the other being cash for the center to use at a time when there is not much around.

We wanted to show CC that her volunteer work at the center really was nice to do. When she outgrew her bicycle we decided to get her a new one. On the day we had planned to go down and work at the center we asked her if she first wanted to go get a new bike. It was on the way and we could quickly stop. Her response was that we could always get a bike but the animals needed to be tended to first. At a time when many children are written off as lazy and uncaring about the world they live in, this made us smile. Children learn from what adults take the time to teach them. In turn they often teach us the things in life that really matter the most. A very rewarding experience.

Mike Stouffer
Guest Blogger

To view the original post of this story, please visit the HelpOthers.org website

Children are very impressionable, often learning by example from what they see others doing around them, leading to moments of unselfishness. Mike Stouffer tells us about his granddaughter CC and her unbridled passion for animals. She’s only 7 years old and has already done more for her community than I did when I was her age and shows no sign of stopping! In fact, as an update to this story, I was told she went around her neighborhood selling lemonade to raise money for the no-kill shelter in her area. She was recognized by the shelter for her good deeds, which meant the world to her. Sounds like that kind of appreciation and the loving support of her family is just what CC needs to keep up her amazing work!

Thank you CC!
~ Lori

As you can see from this touching story, any amount given can make a difference. Please consider making a
donation to Delta Society today to help people in your community receive the healing benefits of visits from Pet Partners teams.
A Living Legend
Monday, July 19, 2010
Seventy eight years ago this week, one of the kindest, most intelligent and inspiring people I've ever had the honor of meeting was born. He grew up on a Midwestern farm with animals part of his daily life, and eventually became a veterinarian. Acting on his desire to help people, as well as animals, he then earned his Masters degree in Public Health. He has had a full career helping both people and animals live better lives, while influencing change for a better world.

Who is this person? It's Dr. Bill McCulloch – one of the co-founders of Delta Society. 'Dr. Bill' was one of the pioneers who recognized the important role animals played in helping people live healthier and happier lives. At a time when pets were often thought of as luxury items, Dr. Bill and his peers collaborated to change the public's and medical professionals' perception about the role of animals in our lives.

Dr. Bill's achievements over the years have been numerous, to say the least. For instance, in 1981 he helped initiate the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Human-Animal Bond Task Force to review the professions role in recognizing and promoting the human-animal bond. This AVMA Committee continues to this day.

In 1983, he and others were instrumental in helping with the passage of the Housing and Urban Rural Recovery Act. This bill, establishing that federally subsidized housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities may not prohibit or prevent a tenant from having common household pets, sent a strong signal that the federal government recognizes the therapeutic value of pets in American's lives.

Last month I had the pleasure of going to dinner with Dr. Bill, his lovely wife Janice, and my co-blogger Lori Moak-Kean. It was a fun evening with dear friends. Many stories and memories were shared, but one story that Dr. Bill shared made a lasting impression.

Nibbs was Dr. Bill's childhood dog. Young Bill loved his 4-legged friend who kept him company on so many outdoor adventures and whom he settled in with during quiet times in the house. Then one day tragedy struck and Nibbs passed away while 17 year-old Bill was out of town at a football game. His father carefully buried Nibbs and lovingly marked his grave.

When Bill came home and learned of the news he was devastated. His devastation made worse as he didn't feel he was afforded the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to his beloved friend. Being a 'stoic farm boy', Bill didn't share his feelings of how he was so upset that he wasn't given a chance for closure and that he wasn't able to properly grieve as he was not able to bury his own dog of some 12 years of companionship. Dr. Bill commented that he may not have even realized at the time how upset he really was. His lack of time to adequately mourn his friend is something Dr. Bill still thinks about to this day.

Today, some 50+ years later, Nibbs is certainly not forgotten. A picture of Nibbs is next to his computer - and whenever Dr. Bill looks at it, Nibbs is still able to warm his heart.

Dr. Bill's story is one that exemplifies how our pets can really touch and 'get into' our hearts. They bring such joy and comfort that literally can last for decades after they've passed.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Bill, I suspect millions of people have been directly or indirectly influenced by his work supporting the importance of the human-animal bond in our homes, in our communities, and in society in general.

Thank you Dr. Bill for ALL the work you've done and continue to do in this field…and for just being who you are! You've inspired me in more ways than you will ever know. Happy Birthday – you are a special one!!!

In the bond,

Pictured above is a young, 9-year old Bill with Nibbs and his pet goat Susie on his Minnesota farm, and a separate picture of Nibbs.

Memories from the Heart
Friday, July 16, 2010
If you have pets, then you know that your animal knows who you are. They know your voice, your smell, and what you look like. If you’ve ever taken your dog to the dog park and become separated, you can see them frantically looking through the sea of people for you. Then the moment you make eye contact, they run at you full-speed, as if they hadn’t seen you in years. There’s almost a sense of relief for them once they’ve reunited with you.

Think about the human-animal reunions after Hurricane Katrina. After being separated for weeks or even months, those animals knew exactly who their owners were the minute they saw or heard them. It seems that once you create a bond with an animal, it can be impenetrable and you can become unforgettable.

That holds true for some wild animals too. A couple months ago, there was a story about a British conservationist, Damian Aspinall, who had helped raise three baby gorillas. He released them back to the wild and five years later, he took a trip to Gabon, Africa to see how the gorillas were doing… and the reunion was something even he didn’t expect.

He was looking for Kwibi, a gorilla he reared by hand. As they travelled down the river, Damian called out for him. And there, on the edge of the river, appeared this large 10-year old gorilla. Damian went on shore to see Kwibi, with some obvious concerns for his safety. But the moment Kwibi made a low, gurgling sound at their meeting, Damian knew Kwibi recognized him and everything would be fine.

They sat together, grooming, embracing and “getting drunk on each other.” Kwibi introduced his family to Damian and Kwibi clung to him to glue, not wanting to let him go. The time came for Damian to leave and Kwibi followed the boat along the river’s edge, all the way back to Damian’s camp. Kwibi built a nest across from the camp and spent the night there. In the morning, Damian got up, went for a swim in the river and there was Kwibi, waiting for him.

And how about the story of Christian, the lion? This story made headlines a year ago about two friends, John Rendall and Anthony Bourke, who had raised a lion in their home in England. They realized they couldn’t keep him due to his size. So, after lots of preparation, Christian was released back into the wilds of Kenya.

One year after his release, John and Anthony made the trip to Kenya to see how their old friend was doing. The film shows the lion cautiously approaching, and then quickly leaping playfully onto the two men… wrapping his front legs around their shoulders and nuzzling their faces, greeting them with love and affection.

There is an unexplainable connection between humans and animals that made Kwibi and Christian want to be with their humans again, even after living wild. Why is that? I don’t know, but I’m glad I have that kind of bond with my animals.

You can watch the extraordinary video of Kwibi’s and Damian’s reunion here. Then watch the amazing reunion of Christian with John and Anthony.


Animals are a special gift for this tough guy
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I’m a 59 year old man - a Vietnam veteran, law enforcement, NYC guy. Not your stereotypical animal rights guy. But, animals are who taught me my humanity. I guess that was God’s way of doing it. Animals are such innocent creatures, defenseless in some ways. I can feel sorry for a person in need, but that’s a world away from feeling almost parental in your wanting to take care of another of God’s creations.

I know when I was broken, in just about every way a man could be broken, it was my pets, my substitute children who were the physical manifestation of God’s love to me. They and no one else were there comforting me, showing me that someone did care that I was still alive. That I had to stay strong because they needed me to be there for them, as I needed to have them there with me – their warmth and their love showing in their eyes.

They lay beside me while I recovered. Remember, it was the animals in the manger who helped Baby Jesus stay warm that first night. Their love helps gives us strength. They are a gift showing us what compassion and gentleness means in this life, even as other people can make you question those very things in this life.

There's no shame in caring for an innocent life. It's an imperative. And, if nothing else in life shows it as clearly, those eyes looking at you with love that will never betray you, are the example and lesson God give you.

Mike Malfi
Guest Blogger

Thank you Mike for sharing your passion about animals and how they have touched your life in such a meaningful way. It is so refreshing to hear from a ‘tough guy’ how the gentle souls of pets can be such a gift.

In addition to what Mike notes above, he is a hardcore New Yorker through and through. He acted in a dozen or more movies in the 90’s and has been a stand-up comedian. Even as he has been challenged with some serious health issues, Mike has helped with animal rescue endeavors for many years and has shared his NYC apartment with numerous adopted ‘furkids’ for decades.

Mike, you are truly one of the great ones!

~ Lori

P.S. Mike is also famous for the "Rickety Red Bus Tour" of his beloved New York City. You can contact him at mmalfi@aol.com to get a copy of this most enjoyable & entertaining DVD.
Look-a-likes make the rounds at LA Hospitals
Monday, July 12, 2010
If you’ve seen the movie, I Love You Man, you may recognize this duo - one of the actors pays special attention to them as they look so much alike. They also happen to be a registered Delta Society Pet Partners team. I asked Ellen Morrow to share her experience of being a Pet Partner with Charley, and was so touched by what she told me that I just had to share it with you.

Charley is happiest when he’s hanging around with people and particularly with the family. He loves to run, to hike, and to wrestle with his uncle, Riley and little half brother Elbee, but nothing seems to bring a smile to his face like being with us. Yes, I did say smile. Charley will sprawl on his back and curl his lips in a big grin. He’s been known to do this in the lobby of UCLA Medical Center. I’m not sure if it’s the cool floor or the steady parade of people stopping to pet him.

Before Charley, I had read about and considered therapy animal work but never thought I had the right dog or really knew how to get involved. When Charley was around 6 months old, we were at the vet when a woman in the waiting room commented on his wonderful temperament and said that he’d probably make a great therapy dog. When I expressed interest, she followed up and called me with the number for People Animal Connection at UCLA Medical Center. I contacted the office but was told to call back when my dog was a year old. I did just that and the rest is history!

Now, as a registered Delta Society Pet Partners Team, Charley and I visit UCLA where our regular units are child, adolescent and adult neuropsych. His size and incredibly calm disposition make my 85 pound gentle giant a natural in the group sessions. Charley does a lot of tricks and is in his glory when performing for an audience. We also visit the emergency room and have done on calls with everyone from people waiting for heart transplants to children in the Pediatric ICU.

At Providence Tarzana Regional Medical Center, where we pioneered the program, we visit all six floors of the hospital, including oncology where Charley has done so much to help patients and their families. He is also a huge hit with the staff.

The time and effort that go into being a Pet Partner can’t compare to the rewards. To be able to share my amazing dog and to see the countless ways that he helps others and brings smiles to their faces has taught me a new level of gratitude. Being “hospital phobic,” I could never do the work that I’m doing alone, but with my trusted partner by my side I can go anywhere. When he’s working, Charley seems to have a sixth sense as to how to behave. A bit goofy and fun-loving at times, he is more reserved with those who are seriously ill. It’s my privilege to be his advocate and to witness the little miracles that he performs.

Selecting one story that has special meaning is really difficult because there are so many. Charley’s first bed visit, for instance, was with a woman waiting for a new heart. I was so nervous but my intuitive partner snuggled in next to her, put his head on her shoulder and didn’t move. She wrapped her arms around him and began to cry, telling me how much it helped because she was very lonesome for her own three dogs.

Then there was the young man with severe OCD who at first was unable to touch Charley. After spending some time observing us, he made a major breakthrough by summoning up the courage to walk over and pet him.

I wish I could share the sound of the laughter of countless ill children who were no longer scared or sad once Charley peeked his big shaggy head into their rooms. One little girl even giggled from her hospital bed, “this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!”

Thank you Ellen for sharing your story of what being a Pet Partner means to you and some of the ways in which Charley has made such a tremendous impact on those in need of the special joy and serenity that only an animal can bring.


Writing Contest: Animals Helping Special-Needs and At-Risk Kids Through the Worst of Times
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Please Note: Delta Society is NOT affiliated with this contest.  We are posting this opportunity as a courtesy as we thought our members and readers might be interested in it.

A new contest is calling for inspiring true stories of pets or animals in nature helping children, parents, and families deal with life's toughest challenges and issues -- divorce and loss, learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, congenital birth defects, cancer, deafness or blindness, bullying, peer pressure, and depression or mental health issues. Full description, rules, prizes, and entry form for this free contest are at http://www.angelanimals.net/contests.html. The deadline for entering is September 15, 2010. Early entries are considered first for inclusion in an upcoming book.

Allen and Linda Anderson, best-selling, award-winning authors and founders of the Angel Animals Network, are sponsoring the contest to find stories for their next new book to be published by New World Library in Fall 2011. Stories can be about any house pet, animal in nature, or therapy animal. Parents, teachers, staff of organizations, schools, or hospitals, writers, child-care specialists, social workers, animal advocates, animal-assisted therapy volunteers, and children or teens are encouraged to submit stories.

Visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/2010/06/prweb4099294.htm for full description of contest.
On The Road Again
Friday, July 09, 2010
I recently went on a road trip with my husband through the desert southwest in Arizona and New Mexico. Going on vacation meant we had to leave our critters in the hands of our trusted pet sitter. As our "Thelma and Louie" road trip got underway, we found ourselves talking about our pets... a lot. We were wondering what they were doing, if they were behaving, if they missed us. Then a van passed us packed full of stuff... and a cat. The cat was in the backseat in a crate with a window view, watching the world go by, which was interrupted by the two strangers in the passing car, pointing excitedly at him.

Seeing that cat made me wonder how many people travel with their pets while on vacation? I started keeping my eye out for more animals on the road and it didn't take long to find them. We saw a cat in the window of an RV just outside of Winslow, AZ. We said hello to a chocolate lab in the back of an SUV in the Petrified Forest National Park. A beautiful husky named "Chess" was resting after his evening walk in the lobby of our hotel in Albuquerque. "Oogo" the Chihuahua (pictured) was doing some shopping at the Governor's Plaza in Santa Fe with his owner from California. Another Chihuahua named "Mister" poked his nose into our motel room to say hello in Springerville, AZ. And two golden retrievers in Show Low, AZ were making the rounds saying hello to folks having lunch.

It's not unusual for people to take their pets on the road. Animals seem like the best traveling companions. They hardly fuss at all. They don't care what your itinerary is or if it changes at the last minute. They'll let you listen to whatever music you want. They won't point out that you should've asked for directions 10 miles ago. And they'll listen to you if you just feel like talking.

These days, it's pretty easy to bring your pet along for the ride. There are pet friendly hotels in every city. Many airlines allow smaller animals to fly in the cabin with you. At many of the rest stops, we saw fenced-in areas where dogs could stretch their legs. And at several truck stops, there were large parks where the drivers and their pooches could enjoy a break outside the cab together.

When we got home, we decided that for our next vacation we'll definitely be looking into how to bring our dogs along with us. Here are some of the sites we researched in case you're thinking of doing some traveling with your pet as well: To find pet-friendly hotels around the country, visit Pets Welcome or Pet Hotel Guru. Another site, Pet Airlines, can help you become familiar with the pet policies of the airline that you are flying with. Pet Airways is a pet-only airline dedicated to transporting animals in the cabin of the plane, not in cargo. There are also lots of articles written on how to prepare your animal for travel, whether it's by plane, train or automobile.

Happy and safe travels to you and your pets!

If you have a service dog and will be traveling be sure to check out the Delta Society website for tips. Even if you don’t have a service dog, you may want to reference this page, as there are some good tips of things for you to think about before you travel with any pet.

Pet Talk: Therapy dog makes patients smile, owner proud
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
It happens to just about every pet owner at some point: a moment of pride so intense you can't help but grin like a fool.

For my friend Charlotte it was when, the day after she brought her newborn home, her goofy, lumbering shepherd mix, instantly besotted, raced to the kitchen wearing an unmistakable expression of disgust because the baby cried for three seconds longer than Harley thought necessary without response from any grownup. Charlotte still grins like a dope when she speaks of that six-months-ago moment.

For my friend Stephanie it was when her cat, Chino, badly injured in an awful accident that left a leg almost useless, fought to regain his courage, then his mobility, and one awesome night made the same flying leap from floor to her arms that had been his habit for years.

For me it was last Thursday, when Jasper, my rescued mutt, strolled into the chemo area of the local cancer treatment center, and two families began cheering: "Yay! It's Jasper. Jasper's here." My affable little dog's step went all prance-y, his butt shifted into full-swing mode, and, without a backward glance at me, he beelined forward, doing his best to spread his special brand of love to five people at once. He knew exactly why he was here, and so he sat tight-as-a-tick against the woman in the recliner who was attached to a bag of chemo meds, reached a paw out to the relative there to support her, and eyed another patient a few feet away as if to say "don't worry, I'll be right there."

Jasper's a certified therapy dog, has been for two years, and every Thursday we go to visit with people fighting cancer. First, Jasper works the folks in the waiting room, positioning himself to give each person - even when there are walkers or wheelchairs - the best access for the fullest connection with him. He loves them all: little kids, pale and scared as they sit with dad, there for radiation; young women who never for a second imagined they'd be fighting breast cancer in their late 20s; ranchers in dungarees who drive their trucks 200 miles for chemo.

Jasper seems to know instantly just what to do for each person. Some he gazes at directly, and they look back into his eyes, silently sharing something I'll never really understand because it's between them and it's private; some he'll sit beside and they rub his head as they stare off into the distance until they've reached the point where things have to be said, and they tell him those things, quietly, he sitting patiently until they're done. Sometimes he stays with a person for two or three minutes; sometimes it's 15 or more. His choice, always. And theirs, I'm pretty sure.

It's not training that makes him so good at what he does. Can't teach that stuff. He's just an especially sensitive, empathetic dog, who knows what is needed.

Some of the people we visit notice me at the end of the leash, and we'll chat. But mostly it's about Jasper and what he brings.

I'm still in awe, even after all these months, of his gift.

The therapy-animal group that certified us "Delta Society" requires a 40-minute re-test every two years that consists of several skills-proving exercises so the examiners can ascertain whether the animal is still well obedience trained (thereby ensuring the safety of the people we visit and the animal itself), that the connection between the dog and handler (me) continues to be productive and that the dog is still enjoying it. We did our re-certification test Saturday, and passed, Jasper receiving praise for his "smiling" demeanor, sweet nature and gentle approach with every person he encountered. I was pretty proud that day. But really, Saturday was nothing compared with what Jasper does for 90 minutes every Thursday.

This past Thursday a lovely man (and his wife, who accompanied him to the chemo sessions) got the all-clear after weeks of treatment. A wonderful result. There's no need for them to return. But they might stop in some Thursday morning, they said, to say hi to Jasper, thank him again for the little boosts he gave them when it mattered most.

That was a little bit of a teary moment, if a proud one, to be honest.

The same kind of moment every loving pet owner I know has had with his or her animal.


Sharon Peters
Pet Partner

Sharon's Pet Talk column appears every Wednesday in the Lifestyle section on USAToday.com. This article was reprinted with permission.  You can find the original article here

Delightful Dari - I wonder does she 'get it'
Monday, July 05, 2010
My Great Pyrenees, Dari, is 110 pounds of love and exuberance. She is not yet three years old, and still has a bit of the puppy in her. She is willing and obedient, and is the social butterfly of the dog park and the obedience class. "Delightful Dari" is the name given to her by one of our clients at the adult day care center we visit each week. (I call her "Destructo Dari" when she and I disagree on such things as landscaping; like most Pyrs, she digs with great enthusiasm.)

But is she a therapy dog? Ever since we became a registered Delta Society Pet Partners team, I have wondered if, in addition to being very social, willing, and obedient, Dari has that special edge, that extra something, that enables some animals to seek out those in need and comfort them, without prompting or direction from the handler. Dari does well in all settings with the "go to" command, and will indeed go to the person I indicate. She responds to "paws up, come closer" and so on. But I haven't known if she does, in fact, have the intuition of a true therapy animal, until last week at the UPS store.

We were not doing visitations that day, and Dari was unbrushed, slightly dirty, slobbery, and not in "working" mode. I was slightly less grubby, but was definitely not in a therapy animal frame of mind, trying to get a list of errands done. I had my arms full of things to be mailed and my mind on the task at hand, when Dari left my side and walked up to a large gentleman at the counter and leaned against him, butting her big old head against his leg. Before I could reprimand her, the gentleman had knelt down next to her, wrapped his arms around her, and hugged her.

He looked up with his eyes full of tears and asked me, "Is this a therapy dog?" I said she was. He said that his wife of forty years and eleven days had died just a few days previously, and that he needed therapy. He and Dari continued to cuddle and nuzzle each other, and he cried into her fur, while I stood back and watched. After several minutes, this man stood up, said, "Thank you," and left.

Before I knew what was happening, a second man came forward. He told me that he had been attacked by four big dogs, and that they had bitten him all up and down the back of his right leg and hip. I apologized for bringing such a large dog into the store, and said I understood that it must be frightening for him. He said, "I don't think I am afraid of this dog." Dari began her leaning and gentle head-butting behavior, and soon this gentleman was down on his knees beside her, and they were having a love-fest, cuddling and hugging and looking into eachother's eyes.

Since this day in the UPS store, Dari and I have done a couple of our regular visitations, and she has again been willing and obedient, following my cues as to how to approach different clients in different settings. As I said, she is young and sometimes exuberant, and she's very large, capable of knocking things over (including people) if she isn't under control. But now in the back of my mind is the constant question: What would happen if I stopped cuing her and simply followed her lead? Was the day in the UPS store a fluke, or do I have at my side a true therapy dog, in the fullest sense of the word?

Time will tell, I suppose. But I am taking Dari more places that are not designated visitations for us, places where I am not likely to cue her to certain behaviors, and I am watching, watching, watching. Who does she approach? Who approaches her? What does she do when she has not received a cue from me?

Does she really "get it"?

Mary Urrutia
Guest Blogger

A Furry Family of Four
Friday, July 02, 2010
Back in 2002, I became a mom… I adopted two cats, Gracie and Oscar. I went to the MEOW Cat Rescue and found a 4-month old brown tabby that was very intent on playing with me. One of the volunteers told me that he was FIV+. They reassured me that cats that have that virus can live long lives and it’s not a death sentence, like most people think it is. She then subtly suggested that I take home his kennel-mate to keep him company, a little tuxedo cat who was the same age. She wasn’t interested in playing, instead she curled up in my lap, which made it impossible to leave without her. Gracie and Oscar have been with me now for 8 years and bringing them both home was the best decision for all of us.

In 2008, my husband and I decided add to the household by adopting a dog. We decided to get a puppy because we thought it would be easier for the cats to adjust to (we were wrong!) We found 2-month old Moki at Puget Sound Rescue. Neither one of us had any experience raising a puppy. And it showed.

Moki is now a 2-year old, high energy dog. To give you an idea of his energy level, we’ve lovingly nicknamed him “Hurricane Moki”. He always wanted to play with the cats, who didn’t want anything to do with him. So getting him a playmate seemed like the best thing for him (and us and the cats.) We chose to foster a dog in order to find the right fit for all of us. We contacted Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and they introduced us to Marta.

Marta was a 2-year old street dog from Taiwan that had lived a rough life. She came into our home scared out of her wits, very skittish and leery of men. She would cower anytime your arm was raised over her head. She hid under everything. But within a few weeks, she began to trust me and became my shadow. After one month, we knew she was a perfect fit for our family and we adopted her, thus earning the title of “foster failures”.

We’ve had Marta for about 3 months now and she is an entirely different dog. She and Moki chase each other in and out of the house. She’s learning how to play with toys, with the help of Moki. When I come home, she greets me like I’ve been gone for 2 years. She’s turned into a big goof!

My husband just returned from a business trip to Thailand and said after seeing all the street dogs there, he saw firsthand what her life may have been like and it broke his heart. So when he sees her playing with Moki, or sleeping on the couch with us, he knows that she has become the dog that she was meant to be.

The bond my husband and I have with our critters is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. We know that by giving these animals a home, they have given us more than we could ever dream of… unconditional love, hope, companionship, and something to be proud of. These animals are our family and when the whole family is in the same room together, that’s when my cup runneth over.



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