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Pet Peeves: Taking a Walk in the Heart

I take OP to see a very sick friend and watch my friend's comfort reborn like a drowned island rising from a deep, cold ocean.

OP and I went to visit Ed, who has been getting sicker.

Ed always has a child's sense of wonder and joy about new visitors. But he's really been struggling with this last stage of illness. It was unclear how welcome we'd be.

Ed's rapidly rusting and sputtering ability to remember names, places, and even words for the simplest things choke his formerly smooth stride. It's like something bites him in the middle of a pleasant moment or humorous anecdote.

Luckily he knew us instantly and began talking right to OP.

"Is that OP? Is it? Would he like to come up?"

Minutes after we arrived, Ed asked to be moved from his bed to the comfy chair, where he and OP cuddled lovingly for hours.

If you ever wondered why qualified dogs are brought to hospitals, you should ask to watch a therapy dog visit the sick. That magical, therapeutic connection is as trippy as a ball lightning, but not rare nor out of the ordinary (like ball lightning).

(Quick aside: I saw ball lightning once in my life, in Maine, as the lightning hit a small forest of trees atop the island across from Harrington Bay. The lightning suddenly rolled into a giant ball of fire and rolled across the treetops and then fell down into the ocean where it hit like 20-second sunspot. The magical power of pets to heal is common phenomena, but it's still awe-inspiring.)

It's the reason little places like Sherman Oaks or Studio City have so many veterinarians and pet shops! Ed lost his restlessness and intermittent confusion for a long respite. We exchanged silly stories and laughed.

As a wise, Unitarian minister, David O Rankin said, "Comedy is the loss of faith in tragedy." Life is full of tragedy—usually melodrama, actually—and playful opportunities are sometimes limited. Therapy dogs bring an instantly playful atmosphere wherever they go.

It's universal, understood by all languages, most cultures, helpful to many conditions of stress and distress.

We played with OP, and with some of the zany new apps on my iPhone (see the picture I included of Ed as a manga cartoon character complete with Japanese printing); and we made OP do tricks for treats.

"Trick for treat!" Ed said, imitating a little trick-or-treater at the door.

In those same hours OP shared Ed's joy in living each moment, pausing to enjoy the simple sensations of a loving cuddle and scratches. Really, what else is important without that?

The big gift our pets bring is taking us off our own leashes for a walk in the heart.

Mattey's Mom October 24, 2012 at 02:57 PM
You made a huge impact on someone's life. Whattraining, if any, is required for a dog to become a "therapy dog"?
Laura Moss October 24, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Good for you and OP. He looks happy at his work. BTW, what is the name of the Manga App? It looks like fun. My grandpa (who loved his therapy dog) would have gotten a kick out of it.
Don Helverson October 25, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Mattey's Mom: See my upcoming article about how to become a handler/therapy dog. It's an up-and-coming passion both with trainers and their best friends and with certain recovery programs, rehabs, prisons, and hospitals. The most interesting therapy, I think, that is happening in this country is the training of inmates to create service dogs for the blind and for folks with special needs. Therapy happens almost instantly upon touching and connecting to a therapy pet's energy and communication. Check out this intro link: http://www.therapydogs.com/PDF/2012/TDInc_Brochure_10-2012.pdf And thanks for asking. It's a great topic for more discussion and info.
Don Helverson October 25, 2012 at 08:10 PM
OP comes on like a New York waitress, gruff and tumble, single-minded and distracted by the importance of his own self. He gets great therapy from the connection to elderly folks who need him. It has been a transformation for that stubborn little puke to soften up and open up. I like seeing his healing as much as seeing him heeling. The Manga App is called, APPtly enough, "Manga Camera." I know. Ho hum. But it's rocking my students' world right now to get their mangaroo jump on these portraits. It's fun for girls, too, to see how flattering the right MangaAngle can be, you know, because, "When a Manga loves a woman..."

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