When Angie received her therapy dog certification in early 2011, I never imagined that, a few short months later, I would be the recipient of her training.
It was a Facebook post that led me to the giant-eared Maltese mix in December 2010. With four dogs at the time, the last thing we needed were four more paws in the house. But as those who rescue know, sometimes the heart rules the brain and you find yourself on autopilot, heading to the shelter to check out a baby in need.
The little dog with the satellite ears came to us from Los Angeles County's Lancaster Shelter. From the minute she placed her paws with the pink painted nails on the shelter bars and grabbed my finger, we knew we'd be taking her home.
We named the little girl Angie. When she curled up on my lap and fell asleep on her way home from the shelter, we knew her role in life was defined: to warm the laps, hearts and souls of people in need. A neighbor of ours is a dog trainer, who also certifies for Therapy Dogs International (T.D.I.). Angie began with basic A.K.C. "Canine Good Citizen" training and graduated to therapy dog training. She took to her classes like a pro. She passed every test with flying colors. Wheelchairs, walkers, loud noises - nothing fazed her. She is such an attentive dog, her eyes rarely leaving mine. And as long as she is in someone's arms, she is perfectly content and safe. In other words, the perfect qualities for a therapy dog.
When it came to picking our specialty for therapy work, I, without hesitation, decided on hospice. I couldn't think of anything better than bringing the love of a canine into someone's world as they transitioned from this life to the next. A therapy dog in hospice provides comfort and love to not only the hospice patients, but their families as well. The physical contact is calming and the unconditional love a salve. The patients and families look forward to the visits and they bring happiness to an otherwise solemn situation.
Over time, the dogs learn to be able to sense the process an individual goes through with death. From restlessness, to a change in orientation and breathing, the dogs seem to adapt to the needs of the patient. A hospice dog puts hand in paw and guides a soul through the gates of the Rainbow Bridge, reuniting them with their precious pets passed.
It was early December 2011. Angie and I were just about to begin our therapy dog visits when I received a call from my mom. She wanted me to come to Michigan for a long weekend to help her with some things that needed to be taken care of around the house. She had just started dialysis and wasn't responding to the treatments very well. My mom requested that I bring Angie with me to help brighten her spirits and keep me company on my flight. I've never been a good flyer and having a dog with me takes my mind off of the stress of travel.
When I arrived in Michigan, my mom informed me that she no longer wanted to continue her dialysis treatments. That would mean that in a matter of days, she would be gone. Hospice was set up in my parents' living room. A bed was placed in the middle of the room, and family gathered around for two weeks, sharing love, stories, and laughter as my mom took her final bows. And there, through it all, was Angie. She laid at the foot of my mom's bed keeping watch over her. She brightened my mom's moods. She sat on the laps of visitors who needed her calming spirit. She licked my tears and nudged my hand encouraging me to pet her which relieved my fears. This three-day visit turned into Angie's two-week doctoral dissertation. On Day 14, Christmas Eve - a year to the day she was found wandering the streets of the desert - Angie laid sleeping on my dad's chest on the couch. My mom, just feet away, was in the process of taking her last breaths.
We woke my dad, placed Angie between us and - my dad, along with my brother, sister and me - held my mom as she went off to her final sleep. Three days later, with Angie in her carrier slung over my shoulder, we walked together past my mom's casket for a final goodbye. Angie earned her stripes that week as my mom earned her wings.
The lines are often blurred when it comes to who does the rescuing in a pet adoption situation. I can say, without a doubt, that the little dog from the Lancaster shelter with the giant ears, and heart to match, definitely rescued me.
Reprinted from The Pet Press
Lisa Goich is an author, talk radio host and blogger. Her memoir, 14 Days - A Mother, A Daughter, A Two-Week Goodbye (Savio Republic), is now available in bookstores everywhere. To read more about 14 Days visit www.14daysamemoir.com. For more information on Therapy Dogs International, visit http://www.tdi-dog.org/.