ūüź©Canine Cupidsūüź∂

ELBEE OMG she stole the title of this post from a UCLA email about the Valentines Day event.

Okay, yes I did but it was better than anything I could come up with. As for the event, you know how sometimes you throw a party and everything just seems to come together? That’s what Wednesday was like. Several dogs from the People Animal Connection, all decked out for the holiday, were there to celebrate. Gus looked a little embarrassed when I put heart tinsel and a red hat on him but that was nothing compared to Gracie and Baylee in their cute dresses

 

 

 

 

Instead of traveling around the hospital in a “pack” as we usually do for Christmas caroling, we split up into small groups delivering cards and gifts to patients and staff all over the hospital. I think because we went into so many areas simultaneously, the atmosphere became very festive. There were countless smiles. There was laughter. There were wagging tails.

Gus was paired up with his buddy Tommy. By the way, kudos to Tommy for remaining humble even though a fellow Bichon had won Westminster the day before. From the executive offices, to the Emergency Department to Maddie’s room, where anxious family members wait for news about their loved ones in surgery, the dynamic duo worked their magic. The phrase that Tommy’s person Donna and I heard over and over again was, “That is just so much cuteness.”

ELBEE Pardon the interruption, but I think I’m going to be sick. And no, I’m not jealous.

Later in the morning, teams gathered outside the hospital for a pet visit station. It was there that the party kicked into high gear. We gave out cards, candy and gifts but the dogs were the best valentines. A young girl in a wheel chair giggled as we brought the dogs to her. Toddlers holding onto parents’ hands stopped in wide-eyed wonder. Patients, families and staff members came outside to say hello. I can’t even count how many times I heard someone say, “This made my day.”

I was in a very upbeat mood when I headed to the car with Gus. Then I turned on the radio and heard about the mass shooting in Florida. It was a shooting so awful that there is no way to minimize the horror. What brought it home even more was that two of my cousins graduated from Marjorie S. Douglas High School years ago. How sad that this is the second time in one of my posts that I’ve felt the need to mention a mass shooting out of respect for the people who were directly impacted.

Our dogs spent the morning at UCLA cheering everyone up, bringing them moments of joy. Now there are dogs in Florida who are working selflessly to help with the healing process in the aftermath of another unspeakable tragedy.

They Work Hard for No Money

Psychologists often talk about over programming your children with school, lessons, extra-curricular activities etc. It made me think. Is it possible to over program your dog?

Recently, the Doods visited five places over the course of a week, including UCLA Medical Center and Providence Tarzana Hospital. To cap it off, they cheered up my friend Roberta who continues her brave fight against brain cancer.

They say a dog needs a job but did I give them too many jobs? Despite the fact that I may have overbooked them, Elbee and Gus never complained. They were ready to go. ¬†There was no judgment, no hesitation… no guilt trip. Actually the only time I get attitude is if I leave them alone for too long.

Whether it was a disturbed child who offered a clumsy hug or a bedridden patient who simply needed them to sit quietly for petting, they knew exactly what to do. Dogs seem to have an innate ability to offer comfort without expectation. Financial consideration aside, how many of us would work simply for a smile or a thank you?

People sometimes say the dogs couldn’t do it without me, but I never lose sight of the fact that it’s always about them. After all, they’re called therapy dogs and I’m called a handler. Okay, if I’m going to be perfectly honest it’s nice to have someone say “bless you” to me when I haven’t sneezed, but I know that I’m in a supporting role.

Since dogs don’t complain it really is the handler’s job to care for and protect them. It’s to make sure they’re happy and not getting too tired. It’s to watch for the look in their eyes, the droopy tail. They do the heavy lifting. The handlers do the security.

Years ago a woman, who was going through orientation to bring her dog into UCLA, shadowed me and Charley. At the end of our “rounds,” she quietly confided that she was a little shy and was afraid she’d have problems interacting with patients. I assured her that with her dog guiding her it would never be an issue.

This morning as I was walking Elbee and Gus, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unselfishly they had worked that week, wondering if I’d done the right thing. Just then, by chance, I met Gilbert, an older man with a very gentle demeanor. He thought he recognized us from UCLA and stopped to chat.

Turns out that Gilbert is not only a dog lover, he also has the utmost respect for them and a belief that they need a purpose, a job. As a volunteer helping the blind, he has come into contact with several seeing eye dogs. He told me that he is amazed at their intuition and all they do for their people. He also shared that he has been studying the psychology of dogs. He confirmed what had just been running though my head. He said they were one of the only species that would put humans before themselves.

It may have been coincidence that we ran into Gilbert, but sometimes ¬†the universe works in unusual ways. You cross paths with a stranger and have a brief but meaningful connection. It’s as if the universe can read your mind.

 

 

 

 

I’ve Got Friends in High Places

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret that the mountains are my spiritual, tranquil and creative space. Now it seems that I have a much better social life up there too. Since I’m not much of a “go to lunch” person, it makes sense that I would have a lot in common with other people out hiking. Note to the daughters: I said hiking not wandering.

ELBEE The jury is still out on that one.

We “regulars”run into each other so often that we greet each other like long lost relatives. Yolanda and Francisco, a fun couple, always stop to take pictures. Sandy, a young mom who hikes after she drops her kids at school, tells me that I’m her inspiration.

ELBEE I hate to burst Pack Leader’s bubble but that may have been an age crack.

Then there’s Kim, who does what I think is Tai Chi on an overlook but who always calls out encouragement. I promised a friend I’d mention the long haired shirtless runner we’ve nicknamed “Fabio” for obvious reasons. Yesterday I commiserated with Ted who lost his Labrador Retriever a short time ago. He told me that recently when he and his wife were watching I Love You Man, he saw me and Charley and said, “hey, that’s my hiking buddy.”

ELBEE The cameo that will live on in infamy.

Last weekend I went hiking with Gary, who is like a son to me. His mom was my dearest friend Eileen who passed away years ago, way too soon. It was a perfect day so we ran into several people in my mountain circle of friends. After a ton of enthusiastic greetings and “where are the dogs?” Gary jokingly remarked, “You should run for mayor of the mountains.”

At first I laughed but then I realized that maybe he was right. Politics is a wide open field right now and women are at the forefront. I could suddenly hear John Denver singing “mountain mama” but I could change it to “mountain grandma” as I made my ascent. I knew my constituents. I knew the issues. I could get rid of litter, open more trails to the dogs. I was a shoe in for the job

ELBEE News Flash! I think mayor of the mountains is an honorary position. On second thought, this might be perfect for me! Doesn’t the honorary mayor need an honorary press secretary? I speak three languages, Dog, English and Spanish plus a few words in French. I’m good in front of a crowd. I’m popular. I’m photogenic.

On the other hand, I have strong opinions and am pretty outspoken. Come to think of it, maybe I should be mayor of the mountains. I would even throw Gus a bone and let him be my honorary PR guy.

 

The Letter


I arrived at the adult day health center with the usual expectations but then something happened that took me totally by surprise. One of the participants gave me a letter.

In October I wrote a post called “An Unexpected Smile,” (10/30/17) about a middle aged man who was interacting with the dogs and suddenly smiled as Gus was doing his famous “dance.” I didn’t realize how momentous that smile was until Lisa, a clinical consultant who was walking by, suddenly stopped in her tracks. She looked at him and asked in amazement, “Did I just see you smile?” It was then I learned that he had deep depression. No one had seen him smile in a year.

The next time that we were there, he came over to see the dogs, again with a smile on his face. He chatted quietly with me while he was petting them. When I mentioned it to Lisa, she told me that he only smiles when Elbee and Gus are visiting.

This week, almost immediately after we came into the center, he and Lisa approached. She said that he had something he wanted to give me. That’s when he shyly handed me an envelope with the letter inside. I asked if he’d like me to read it but he preferred that I wait until later. For most of the next hour he stayed with me and the Doods as we made our way around the room.

When I was finally alone in my car, I opened the envelope to find the letter,  carefully written on a sheet of notebook paper. It was so honest and sincere that as I began to read, it brought tears to my eyes.

He started by expressing his gratitude. Then he wrote, “I like to see them do their tricks and pet them. I know they really love you and they love to come here too.” He truly understood that their comfort with me extended to their comfort with everyone else.

He continued, “The staff always tells me when you are coming so I don’t miss you. ¬†I don’t smile here, only when the dogs are here and the staff noticed that.” He ¬†went on to say, “Dogs are so therapeutic and just having those wet nosed animals around brings back old memories of when I had my dogs.” He then shared some of those special memories about two of his dogs. He ended the letter with another note of appreciation.

It was so meaningful to hear about the effect of the dogs from someone who was actually experiencing their healing power. Not only did he express his gratitude but he put into words exactly how they were helping him. It meant so much to him that he took the time to write one of the most beautiful letters that I have ever received.

 

 

The Kissing Booth

As I was getting ready to go to a Day of the Dog Event, Nicole, the middle daughter, shared a Facebook post with me. Someone commented, “It’s just a dog,” and got the response, “Hey, that’s my child.” I think it was supposed to be funny but I could totally hear myself saying that.

It made me wonder, have I gone over to the dark side? After all, I was wearing my Pets are People Too” sweatshirt. And I recently bought an “I Love My Dog” hoodie. Oh who am I kidding? Of course I have and I’m proud of it too.

ELBEE AND GUS Thank goodness. She had us worried for a moment.

The event was at the beach in Oxnard where the community is trying to establish an off-leash dog park. It was a gorgeous, cold clear winter day. There were booths with canine products and services, demonstrations, food and a great band. Not to mention, there were tons of beautiful well-behaved dogs walking around. It was my idea of a perfect afternoon.

Karen Taylor from My Best Friend Obedience, wonderful long time trainer to all of our dogs, had invited me to take part in a tricks demonstration. Since I’ll have the Doods perform for random strangers on the street, it was nice to have a little audience that really wanted to see what the dogs could do.

With all of the activity, I had decided to just bring Gus. Elbee can get a bit  obnoxious in that kind of a setting.

ELBEE Excuse my joie de vivre

 

Gus was in his element. Bull Dogs, Chihuahuas, children, seniors, he didn’t meet a person or a dog that he didn’t like. He got “therapy” at Karen’s booth. Okay, so he didn’t realize it was a stuffed animal. He strutted around, when he wasn’t sniffing the ground, and was showered with compliments. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “He’s so fluffy! He’s adorable!” ¬†As for his tricks, he waved, danced, rolled over and actually got applause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I saw the kissing booth! Not only could I get the cutest picture with Gus, but I could share it with the daughters!

I have to confess that I almost didn’t send it to them because of Joan Lunden’s commercial about a “Place for Mom.” I only half listen to her because the topic about where to stash your elderly mother is so disturbing. I’m afraid that if I don’t stop with the photos, the daughters may drop me off in the mountains with my bench.

Be honest. You knew I couldn’t stop myself and they didn’t disappoint. One was speechless. One was disturbed. One was just sorry that she couldn’t “unsee” it. Life on the dark side is so much more entertaining when you can share it with your adult children.

 

 

When the Going Gets Tough…

It’s not a great sign when you’re at Burbank Airport and hear an announcement saying that all flights are cancelled. The good news was that it was only flights to Las Vegas. I say that selfishly because I needed to get to northern California where my two year old grandson was having surgery.

Ryder was born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a complicated illness that in simple terms causes intestinal dysfunction. He has had more than his share of procedures and operations, including the most recent one. The hospital can be a scary place for a toddler, but¬†Danielle, the youngest daughter and the one who tolerates the Doods, and her husband Jay, the cat person, have been amazing. They have provided unwavering support for Ryder. The way that they have handled everything speaks to the resilience of the human spirit. There are moments of exhaustion, frustration and anger at the situation, but they always bounce back. They offer uncompromising love and compassion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryder has been having a tough time. Recovery can be slow. Still, thanks to the constant loving presence of Danielle and Jay, he has had moments of contentment and joy. Even in the hospital, he can just be a little boy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another bright note, aside from my flight not being cancelled, was that I got to hang out with Bella, my adorable four year old granddaughter. No, I am not biased. Watching  her brother has been tough on her too. It was nice to see her smile and hear her laugh. On the down side, she loves Minnie Mouse cartoons. I have to admit the stories have been updated, but Minnie still has the most annoying voice. Not to mention Daisy Duck.

 

 

 

 

 

Working in the hospital with the dogs, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with so many parents of sick children. In a way it gives me even more insight into what my kids are going through. Of course it’s tougher when it’s your own family. Also, knowing what the dogs can do, I would have given anything to have Gus or another therapy dog walk in and put a smile on Ryder’s face, even for a fleeting moment.

When I got home last night, Elbee and Gus gave me their usual over the top greeting with some guilt mixed in because I had abandoned them for a few days. Once they settled down, it was as if they sensed my emotional state and became my personal therapy dogs. Sitting with them cuddled next to me, I totally got it. I felt the worry and the tension fade away.

 

The Barbecue, the Bird Nest and the Bench

My last few posts have been more personal and emotional. This one not so ¬†much. It’s also only marginally dog related.

ELBEE I hate when I hear that.

Sometimes the daughters hand me material that is just too good not to use. I admit that I started it by sending them a photo but they were quick to chime in via text message.

We had an old broken down barbecue that should have been put out of its misery years ago. The husband doesn’t like to part with anything and said he was still using it. When I opened it, trying to convince him to say goodbye, I found a bird nest inside.

The daughter who might hike if there were Starbucks on the trails, thought it was disgusting. She didn’t like the one I found a month ago and brought home to show my granddaughter either. I think she used the word, “vermin.” And let me assure you that no birds were harmed in the taking of the nests. They were long gone.

I had no idea how the nest had gotten inside the barbecue. One daughter suggested that Elbee might have had something to do it. Another thought that maybe he ate the birds.

ELBEE As if! Although I admit these photos look incriminating, I was just curious and I don’t eat bird. I’ve even considered becoming vegan.

 

 

 

GUS For the record, I had nothing to do with it. I’m too short.

Then the oldest suggested that since we were cleaning out, it might be time to get rid of the ashes from Charley, Larry and Cody, three of our wonderful dogs who we keep in urns by the fireplace. Being practical and having a sick sense of humor, she actually said, “Why not wait for a Santa Ana wind and scatter them off the balcony.” Wonder where she gets that sense of humor.

I told her that if I was ever going to do it, the mountains would be the most fitting place, which led to the conversation about my bench. For years, I’ve been telling all three daughters that I want my own bench up in the mountains. I just have to find the right place. It doesn’t even have to be memorial. They can work on it while I’m still here.

After I sent these bench photos they asked, “Why can’t you just use one of those?” When I explained they were already taken, two of them wanted to know if I really expected them to schlep up into the mountains to visit my bench.

ELBEE¬†What is this? “The Price is Right” for benches?

 

Today I saw a faux leather sofa up on a hill. It screamed pizza and nachos rather than nature and spirituality but it gave me an idea. Why not have the daughters put an exercise bench up in the mountains.

ELBEE I knew it! It’s the new year and this is a¬†thinly veiled excuse to share one of those photos.¬†You know the ones I mean. I’ve tried to get her to stop but Pack Leader will never get over her glory days.

THE CONFUSED DOODS What is that??

Happy New Year from Me and the Doods

In many ways 2017 was a difficult year. I hope that recapping the work accomplished by the Doods and their fellow therapy dogs will help us all focus on the positives in the world.

From meeting Lakers Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. as we all brought Halloween to the patients at Mattel Children’s Hospital to helping Santa at Providence Tarzana’s adopt a family day, the Doods and I were fortunate to take part in so many amazing events.¬†Still, I will only write about one as I look back on the year because I want to focus on the quieter, less seen moments. They are the true heart of what our dogs so unselfishly accomplish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The UCLA student athlete event in March was bittersweet because it turned out to be Charley’s last “job.” He interacted with everyone with his usual grace and sweetness, little Gus by his side. At one point, I had the privilege of walking through the campus hall of fame. As entranced as I was with room after room of gleaming athletic awards and trophies, I was most taken with the portrait of the legendary John Wooden. In retrospect, there is a beauty in knowing that my legendary therapy dog spent his last evening in such a special place.

 

 

 

 

 

As I recall meaningful moments, I see the face of the man at the adult health center who was smiling for the first time in a year. I also see the beaming face of the young man whose hands are severely crippled but who loves to have me put treats between his fingers for Gus.

I see anxious parents sitting in the small waiting room outside of the UCLA neuropsych units. Recently, as we were leaving, the mother of a very disturbed young girl told me how much her daughter adores the dogs and how much she talks about them. With a wistful smile she simply said, “thank you for visiting.”

Neither the staff who were watching or I will ever forget Elbee’s interaction with a young patient who had been out of control and screaming, and according to the therapists, “a danger to self and others.” Within a matter of minutes the child went from petting Elbee and applauding his tricks to dropping down on the floor to teach him how to take a bow.

This year there were countless times outside of the hospital when the Doods suddenly brightened someone’s day. We were walking past a market when a teenage boy, who was working outside picking up carts, saw the dogs and got a huge grin on his face. Petting them, he asked if it was okay to give them a hug. When I assured him that it was fine, he wrapped his arms around them and said, “My heart feels warmer.”

My son-in-law Jay, who is wonderful despite being a self-admitted cat person, perhaps put it best. He said that when I’m out with the dogs, “random acts of positivity seem to circle around us.”

Wishing everyone a year of peace,  love and positivity!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Inner Grinch

I have been known to indulge my inner Grinch during the holiday season. I guess you could call it my inner kvetch during Chanukah.¬†And yes, I still binge watch Hallmark Channel movies as an antidote. But I’m afraid I may have weakened. I was about to put up a post that had absolutely nothing to do with this time of year. Then I realized I’d be sharing it on Christmas and I caved.

In retrospect I should have saved the post about caroling at UCLA or the one about the Adopt a Family program at Providence Hospital. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that far ahead. Instead I want to share a day with the Doods that for me epitomizes what this season should be about.

 

 

 

On Thursday morning we went to the Adult Health Center. There was a Christmas tree and there were some decorations but nothing brightened up the large room like Elbee and Gus. It didn’t matter if the participants were old or young, suffering from bipolar disorder or depression, so many just wanted to pet the dogs or hug them. A few followed us around.

An elderly woman who seemed distracted suddenly focused and told me they made her so happy. Another whispered in Spanish that they were angels.

ELBEE Finally somebody got it right.

I also found out that the quiet man who smiled for the first time in a year when he was with the dogs a few weeks ago, only smiles when they’re visiting.

After leaving the center, we drove over to see my dear friend Roberta, the one who has been battling brain cancer. She is a warrior if ever I’ve seen one. Never a complainer, she admitted how rough the treatment has been. After we chatted for awhile, the Doods took over. They love her and she loves them.¬†I know she sneaks them treats whenever I’m not looking. For a brief time they make her forget about everything except them.

On the way home, with my two exhausted dogs in the car, it struck me just how many gifts they had given. Every single one was unselfish and priceless.

The next morning at a yoga class, Rebecca, the teacher, suggested dedicating our practice to some purpose or intent. Surprisingly, the first thought that came into my head was family and not dogs so I was kind of torn.

ELBEE That’s not funny.

Then Rebecca suggested focusing on gratitude and it made perfect sense. I apologize for any cliches or repetition but hey where’s your holiday spirit?

Working with the dogs, especially during this season, has taught me to be grateful. Seeing so many people who are slowed down by illness or injury, I feel fortunate to have my health. I am appreciative that I can write these posts even when I struggle. And yes, I truly am grateful for my family and friends.

I realized that being with the dogs as they help so many people is apparently giving therapy to my holiday spirit or lack there of. Uh oh. Are they killing my inner Grinch?

 

 

 

 

 

I Love this Day

Holiday spirit came to Providence Tarzana Medical Center this week. As part of the “Adopt a Family” program the staff helped less fortunate people fill their wish/need lists. There were piles of beautifully wrapped presents. I saw nothing but smiles on everyone’s faces. I think we all felt as if we were celebrating the true meaning of Christmas and Chanukah.

Representatives from Reseda High School and One Generation were on hand to collect the gifts for distribution. Also on hand were the fabulous Doods and Annie a darling Poodle, another hospital therapy dog. There was no singing involved which is probably why they let me participate.

ELBEE For the record, she has never called me “darling.”

 

 

There was also a very special guest joining in the festivities. It was none other than Santa Claus. After the gifts were loaded up to be delivered to deserving families in the community, Santa headed to the sixth floor to hand out presents to the young patients in pediatrics.

At first the kids squealed in delight to see Santa and were so excited about the toys. Then suddenly they noticed the dogs coming down the hall and it was all over for Santa.

ELBEE No one steals the show from this diva, not even Santa

I happen to know this particular Santa personally. In the “off “season he’s a wonderful firefighter named Mitch. He was laughing and said that he couldn’t believe he was taking a back seat to the dogs. I told him, “That’s just great. The therapy dogs will give Santa issues and send him for therapy.” Can you imagine my Jewish guilt?

Even Santa Mitch, who actually has a therapy dog of his own, realized that the dogs were working their Christmas magic. Their was such joy as they walked into the rooms. Kids were hopping out of their beds to cuddle with them. As much as they loved seeing Santa and receiving their presents, it was petting the dogs that brought the biggest grins.

One little boy just touched my heart. He had been very busy building Legos in his bed but was quietly happy when the dogs came in to see him. A few minutes later he walked out into the hall and received a gift from Santa but quickly came back to the dogs. Hugging Gus, he looked around as if trying to take it all in. Then, with the sweetest expression on his face he said, “I love this day.”