This week Baker and I made our first hospital visit as a therapy dog team, which was a dream come true for me. The journey began years ago when a dear friend was hospitalized with terminal cancer. Therapy dog visits were the highlight of her last days, and led to fond reminiscing about dogs she had loved. Smiles, tears, joy, and faith in being reunited with them on the other side sustained her to the end, and I realized the power of a wagging tail in a hospital, a healing dimension that no high tech treatment, or the most caring human, can provide. To honor my friend’s memory, I promised myself that someday I would do this work.
I had a lot to learn. The process to meet national certification standards and hospital requirements takes time and commitment. It begins with having the right dog, one with a friendly personality and unflappable calm amidst strangers, medical equipment, hospital smells, and sick people. A dog who will obey commands in spite of distractions, and will navigate carefully around wheel chairs and IV tubes. A dog who loves to be hugged by strangers.
Until I adopted Baker, I didn’t have the right dog and I didn’t know if he would be “the one” able to become a therapy dog. He was in foster care in the Midwest, and our meeting in the Holiday Inn parking lot where I met his kind transporters wasn’t auspicious. It began with him taking off to the end of the flexi-leash, dragging me behind.
With time and patience and the help of a good trainer we worked hard on obedience, and passed the Delta Society certification test.
And so this week we took a deep breath and walked through the hospital doors as a therapy dog team and made our way down the hall to the Radiation Therapy waiting room.We visited with patients and family members who were eager to talk about their dogs. They scratched Baker’s ears as I listened to funny stories and sad stories of dogs much missed. For a few moments, they forgot why they were there. They smiled and laughed and hugged Baker. His tail wagged the whole time. “He sure is a purty dog,” one man commented.
Towards the end of the hour Baker laid his head on my lap and looked up, as if to say, “We need to go now.” I wished everyone good luck, and thanked them. On our way out Baker got more hugs from staff. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time, knowing we had made a difference. We had brought smiles and a few moments of joy and normalcy to some very sick people. We walked out of there healthy and whole, but humbled by the faces of courage.
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