A few years ago, I had a wonderful assistant, and friend, G. She was from Brazil, but had come to the States to attend college. Thanks to her, I had a lot of laughs, and managed to master a very minimal amount of conversational Portugese. At the same time I knew G., (sadly, I haven't seen her in awhile as she has since moved back to Brazil), my friend A., who also worked with us then, was in a sad state of doglessness, but he sometimes watched his ex-wife's yellow Lab, S., for extended periods of time while she traveled. I didn't bring my own dogs to the office very much then (at the time, I didn't have Phoebe, but did have Tucker, as well as Dakotah, my Malamute mix) but A. would bring S. with him just about every day when he was watching her.
G. loved dogs, but was also dogless and missing her family's dogs back home in Brazil, so she was overjoyed whenever there was a dog in the office. She was also particularly fond of S., who was, admittedly, an amazing dog, and is sorely missed by all who knew her now that she has passed. (My friend A. wrote her a eulogy.) But I digress ...
Whenever S. was there, G. would make a beeline to A.'s office, declare "I need Dog Love!" in the dramatically passionate way that only Brazilians can, and then proceed to sit down on the floor, fling wide her arms, and invite S. onto her lap for a snuggle fest. To this day, when I see A. at his new office (he owns the studio where I shoot the TV spots for my clients' campaigns, and now has his own Lab, M., who I found on the side of the road as a puppy and knew immediately that he was destined to be A.'s partner in crime), I will occasionally enter in faux dramatic fashion, plunk down on the floor, open my arms to M., and declare my need for Dog Love, which, if you are Brazilian (or pretending to be) comes out sounding a lot like daughluuuve! What can I say? It cracks us up. In fact, I am chuckling even now.
The point is (and I do have one - amazing, no?) that dog love (and even daughluuuve!) is both incredibly uplifting and all but universal. A shared love of dogs can transcend age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, nationality, sexual preference, and just about everything you can think of. It breaks down the walls we (most of the time unwittingly) tend to erect between ourselves and others who are different from us in ways we perceive as being significant. It's a very powerful common denominator. Speaking only for myself, I notice that I almost automatically feel more relaxed around and comfortable with people if I know they are dog (or really any animal) lovers. They may be as unlike me in every way as it is possible to be, and assuming they are not serial killers or pathologically unfriendly, I can chat with them almost ad nauseum, about any manner of subjects, provided we have that love of dogs in common.
This is something that was very helpful when Tucker & I were volunteering at a local hospital doing pet therapy. However, for a few different reasons (but mostly due to that old buzzkill "a very busy schedule"), we stopped volunteering regularly, and it has been months since we've been there. Until last week, when my 82 year old grandmother (a huge dog lover) ended up in the very same hospital where we used to volunteer. It's been a very nerve-wracking and worrisome time for the whole family, and one of the most upsetting things for many of us is not even the medical diagnosis and its attendant ramifications, but the flagging almost to the point of extinguishment of a spirit that has always been, in my lifetime, the very definition of indomitable.
Enter Tucker. During one visit as we sat there trying in vain to encourage my grandmother to eat, struggling to think of some family anecdote that might lift her spirits, it came to me that Tucker might be a great mood elevator for her ... after all, he always works for me. And the patients we had seen previously had loved him. If someone is having a bad day at the office, he always seeks them out and makes a point of giving them some attention. So I asked my aunt for her opinion ...and she agreed. So far he's visited three times, and has noticeably raised her spirits and brightened her outlook each time. On Sunday, with him on her lap, she sat up in a chair for several hours, which she hadn't done before, and polished off quite a bit of her lunch as well. She calls him "my therapy dog." He is happy to oblige, and in fact, deeply content and satisfied in the way that working dogs who are doing their job well always seem to be. He's also comforted some worried families in the waiting room, and snuggled with a recent stroke victim who is missing his own dogs at home. Seeing him in action is an incredible experience because although he did have a little bit of specialized training in order to be certified to go into the hospital in the first place, and even though we are partners in the endeavor, the truth is that I am mostly just holding the leash. It is Tucker's show, and his desire to do this work (which he thinks is not work, but the most fun in the world) comes from him.
My grandmother will be discharged some time this week and will enter a rehab facility to get stronger. I'm in the process now of figuring out what specific requirements this facility has for therapy animals. (Tucker has his CGC and is certified by Therapy Dogs International, but all facilities have slightly different requirements.) One thing is for sure ... seeing someone I know and love be so transformed by something as simple as holding a dog on their lap has really galvanized me to recommit to sharing my incredible dog with others. Although I think for awhile we'll have our hands full with one very special patient.