Hopefully, there's nothing 'Un-PC' about this one

bill_vincentOctober 23, 2006

For all you dog lovers out there:

The Therapy Team

By Terry Perret Martin

My sister found Jake roaming the streets. He was all skin and bones, his fur was matted, and he was filthy and exhausted. The only thing shiny about him were his big eyes. They looked just like the eyes of a deer.

My family telephoned me to come look at him as soon as my sister brought him home. When I saw Jake I knew. My family didn't even have to ask, and I didn't need to say a word. "We knew you'd take him," said my sister.

The next day, I took Jake to the vet. After his examination, the vet said, "I'm afraid this dog has a serious heart condition. I don't expect him to make it to the end of the week." I'd only had him one night, but the news hit me hard. Jake looked at me and I at him and I said, "Let's go home, boy."

A month passed as Jake proved the doctor wrong. Jake blossomed; clearly he adored people and loved life. Grateful for his recovery, we simply took things one day at a time. Then, one morning, I noticed a newspaper article requesting dogs and volunteers for a pet-assisted therapy program. I thought this would suit Jake - and I must have gotten over twenty calls from friends and family who had seen the article and insisted that Jake would be perfect - so I scheduled an interview. Jake was, as the interviewer said, "enthusiastic," and he went on to pass several more interviews, vet visits and discipline tests with flying colors. He was now an official hospital volunteer.

I was so proud, and Jake was too. For the next six years, we spent every Friday night at the hospital in the oncology/hematology unit; we saw hundreds of patients.

One particular visit stands out. We were working with another team, Sherry and her dog, MacDuff. It had been a long Friday night after a long Friday, and we were all tired. It was well past eleven o'clock, and as we passed the elevator, the doors opened and a man in his fifties and his grown son stepped out. They almost ran into Jake and Mac. "Oh, how beautiful," said the son. "Can we pet the dogs?"

"Sure, that's why we're here," Sherry replied.

The son knelt down and embraced the dogs, then jumped up and asked, "Can they visit a patient?" He glanced at his father, lifting his eyebrows to seek approval.

His father looked down at the floor and said slowly, with emotion, "My wife is very ill."

I placed my hand on his shoulder and said, "We've seen lots of very sick patients. Which room is she in?"

They led the way down the hall, and as we entered the silent room, we saw the patient lying on her side under the covers. She was asleep, twisted in a fetal position. She was very pale, and we knew instantly that this should be a short visit.

I pulled a chair over next to her head. I sat down and Jake hopped right up into my lap. I gently took the woman's clenched fist and let her knuckles stroke Jake's long soft ears.

I spoke directly to her, "This is Jake, and he's got very long ears. We think he's part cocker spaniel and part Irish setter." Her hand relaxed, slowly opened and lightly gripped onto Jake's ear. Jake glanced at me with his big deer eyes; we knew we'd made contact. I asked the woman, "Did you ever think you'd see a dog in the hospital?"

She opened her eyes just a bit and answered very slowly, but clearly, "No, I never thought I'd see a dog here." She started to gently pat Jake's head unaided, with a completely open hand. I smiled. She smiled. Jake smiled.

I said, "He's got a partner here. MacDuff would like to see you if it's okay with you." Sherry lifted MacDuff up. The patient's face filled with delight when she saw Mac, a beautiful sheltie.

She exclaimed, "My father used to raise shelties." She asked her son to help her up so she could hug Mac. Every eye in that stark hospital room was on them. Her husband and son beamed.

We didn't stay much longer after that hug, but the once-solemn room was now filled with warmth. For Sherry and I, this was an absolutely lovely visit with a devoted family. But as we enthusiastically told the nurse about the patient talking and hugging Mac, she interrupted, "You must have the wrong room." We confirmed the name and the room. The nurse stood very still.

"What is it?" Sherry asked.

She replied, "I have goose bumps."

The nurse went on to explain that this patient was very sick. Only 5 percent of her brain was functioning. On her arrival, they didn't think she'd make it through the first night. She'd been there a week, but had not awakened - she wasn't expected to awake. Family and friends had been keeping a vigil by her bedside the entire time. Now we all had goose bumps.

As the nurse scurried down the hall to check on her patient, we saw the father and son holding tightly to each other outside the room. They were jubilant. We turned and looked down at Mac and Jake sound asleep in the middle of the nurses' station. I guess miracles are exhausting.

For the next six years, I was blessed with Jake's company, and I'm grateful for every second. My dog, and others like him, had a power that left me in awe: He lay with people as they prepared for death. He listened as a young mother rehearsed her words to her children, telling them that she wouldn't be there to celebrate their joys or comfort them in their sadness. He had the ability to help patients overcome pain even morphine couldn't mask. He comforted family members as they said their last good-byes to loved ones.

I felt so privileged to be a part of our therapy team, not only because I witnessed what Jake was able to do, but because I had the voice to tell of it, and to celebrate it, both during his lifetime and even now, long after he is gone. It's simple: My dog Jake worked miracles with his love.

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Now it's on its way out.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 11:44PM
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How wonderful. Animals are so important to so many people.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 2:26AM
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