Sunday, January 19, 2003

The therapy dog

Merely making it official


We have a new dog in our family. Wait. Stay with me. I promise not to show you pictures or expect you to walk around with her hair on your navy blazer or allow her to kiss you on the lips.

Not everybody loves animals. I know this. I do not understand it, but I know it. I am not one of those people who thinks animals are more important than people. It just turns out that I like almost every animal I meet. Especially horses. Inevitably dogs.

Our family has lost two very dear old dogs during the past year. They were the equivalent of 70 and 98 in people years, so although this was not entirely unexpected, it was nonetheless heartbreaking. The older dog belonged to me. The younger dog, Munch, broke the heart of my granddaughter, Rosie, who is 7.

Oliver's heart

Munch's mission in life, the job she assigned to herself as a puppy, was to go everywhere with Rosie. A mixed breed dog with some nearly insurmountable genetic challenges - a bad back and hips - Munch probably didn't feel good a lot of the time, but she never complained and she never called in sick.

This is not unusual behavior for a dog.

Edith Markoff of Children's Hospital therapy dog program tells about her late dog, Oliver, a Newfoundland who was dying of congestive heart failure. He invested the last days of his life in making the last days of a little girl's life bearable.

"They just connected," Edith says.

Dogs are more forgiving than most people. They're more generous and certainly less inclined to talk behind your back. They do not fear commitment, nor do they demand expensive jewelry. They never talk when they should listen.

During that first year after the attack on the World Trade Center, the ferry that took victims' families to the site always had a dog on board. And somebody always needed to pet the dog.

I understand this. When my dog died, I turned to Munch. Who responded heroically. My granddaughter, Rosie, even said Munch could be "half yours, Mamaw," a gift of staggering generosity. Then we lost Munch.

I attached myself to a friend's dog, Lucy, who will have little time for me, I fear. Just last week, Lucy qualified as an official Therapy Dog. She'll be ministering to the sick and sick at heart one day every week at hospitals all over the city. Lucy does not have a bus pass. So a human must take her there and bathe her, making her sickroom-ready. There is admirable heart on either end of the leash.

If you think you are up to the challenge, Glenna Mockbee of Therapy Dogs International Inc. is taking applications at or 231-0911. Information about Children's Hospital therapy dog program is available at Web site.

In my opinion, all dogs are therapy dogs. It's just that some of them have done the paperwork.

Our family's new dog is Ruby. She's just a baby, but she already has decided not to let Rosie out of her sight. There's something about Ruby that reminds us of Munch. This is very therapeutic.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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