Grandma with the Dogs Part Two

This post is a miracle just because it ever got written. The two youngest grandchildren were here to visit this weekend. Add two Doods to the mix. Throw in that almost four year old Bella is not a fan of big dogs and you have a recipe for chaos.

As I’ve shared in the past, she loves the dogs in photos. In person, not so much. I thought that with Charley gone it might be different but apparently Elbee now looks huge. Her fear of Charley has been replaced with a fear of Elbee.

She may have a point about his size. When I was walking the dogs this morning, someone driving by saw Elbee and called out, “Wow, big dog!”

ELBEE In case she forgets to mention it, someone else yelled out “hey, super cute.”

As you can imagine, Elbee does not take well to being avoided, or ignored and started following her everywhere. He was a dog on a mission.

ELBEE Hellooo. I’m a therapy dog. It’s my job not to be ignored.

Gus was a different story. By virtue of his size, it took her much less time to warm up to him. He practically won her over without even trying. He’s smaller, even with the poofy hair, so it kind of gave him favored dog status. I also think that being a Teddy Bear Doodle he has the stuffed animal thing going for him. I should mention that Riley, our fourteen year old Golden, lay around like an area rug to stay out of the line of screaming.

I think Elbee might have remained “canine non grata” if my older granddaughter hadn’t come over. She’s an animal lover who immediately gave him a huge hug. Not sure how she did it, but she convinced Bella that it was okay to be in the same room with him. She even got her to pet him.

Before the truce, Bella wanted me to carry her all over the house in case Elbee decided to pop out and surprise her, or even worse, try to lick her. It’s not that she’s heavy but carrying her up and down stairs was a pretty good workout. Instead of “grandma with the dogs,” her nickname for me, I should be called “grandma with the biceps!”

ELBEE Oh no, a closet selfie. I should have seen that one coming. 

GUS What’s a bicep?

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Dynamic

I confess that this post is going to be very self-indulgent.

ELBEE So what else is new?

The most painful losses in my life, other than the loss of my youth, have been my parents, my brother, and two very close friends. Losing Charley ranks right up there.

ELBEE To those of you who think that’s inappropriate (I don’t) remember that Pack Leader shared the birth of her grandson and Gus passing his therapy dog test in the same sentence.

I don’t mean that losing him hurts the same way that it hurts to lose a person. Oh who am I kidding. Of course it does. He was like my shadow and my protector.   He was a near constant presence in my everyday life. I think he considered himself my service dog but couldn’t figure out exactly what he was supposed to do for me.

Now that he’s been gone a few months, I realize just how much he orchestrated the rhythm of the the pack. I first noticed a change in the dynamics during our walks. When I used to take the three out together, Charley, by virtue of his size and personality, would get most of the attention. He could win people over in a matter of seconds. To compete, Elbee would either bark and be obnoxious or feign disinterest.

 

 

ELBEE Excuse me for expressing the two sides of my personality.

Without Charley by his side, Elbee appears larger and gets noticed a lot more. People constantly comment on how beautiful he is and are curious about his breed. Not surprisingly, he is thriving on the attention. At work he is so calm and focused, it’s like a different dog.

ELBEE Not sure if I should be flattered or offended. 

As for Gus, when he walked between the other two, he sometimes got lost in all of the hair. People couldn’t even see him. Now he struts by my side wagging his tail and smiling like the cute little diva he’s become.

Not sure if it’s my imagination or my hopefulness, but at work he seems to be showing some of Charley’s intuition. At UCLA this week, Gus was completely focused on a man sitting alone on a bench across the lobby. When he pulled me over to him, the man told me that he was nervous and stressed because his wife was having her third cancer surgery. Petting Gus, he relaxed and smiled and said that it, “made his day.”

The times I come home may be when I miss Charley’s presence the most. Riley, our senior citizen Golden is usually asleep behind the door. Elbee and Gus will run to greet me but it’s not the frenzy that it used to be. They’re excited but a little more subdued. It dawned on me that as well behaved as Charley was, he was the enthusiastic leader of the welcome home committee. He was so relieved that I was back that he made most of the noise and spurred on the other two. One of the hardest things since Charley’s passing has been not to hear that huge bark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pups in the Park

Once a season the Dodgers go to the dogs…over 500 dogs. It’s a special evening when you can bring your best friend to a game. You buy a ticket and then sit in the red pavilion with all of the other dogs and their people.

Since I’m a Dodger fan and they encourage you to dress up your dogs, it’s a no brainer for me. A couple of years ago we took Elbee and Charley.

 

ELBEE I think Pups in the Park is a misnomer. (Charley would be so proud of my new vocabulary). They should call it Crazy Dog People in the Park. And trust me, Pack Leader blends.

As if things couldn’t get any better, before the game starts there’s a parade. The dogs and their owners walk on the warning track right next to the field.

ELBEE I had two problems during the parade. First, Pack Leader kept doing her parade wave to people in the stands, the announcers, even a few players. It was just embarrassing. I can only imagine what she was like during the bodybuilding years. I gained new respect for the daughters.

Second, I really had to pee but the huge security guards wouldn’t let me anywhere near the grass.

I’m sorry to keep complaining because I am a Dodger fan but I couldn’t fit on the bleachers.You try watching a game from under the seats. I did, however, acquire a real taste for beer while I was stuck down there.

This year it was Gus’s turn. Since he’s already white, all we had to do was dye his ears and tail blue and he was ready to go. He looked so cute, they even got a shot of him on TV.

GUS I probably shouldn’t admit it but I’m starting to enjoy having my hair colored. It’s kind of become my trademark.

 

Gus, very friendly by nature, managed to meet all of the dogs and people sitting aroud us. It was as if he was trying to win a popularity contest, kind of like when he was running for mayor.

Although he fit on the bleachers, he must have decided they weren’t comfortable enough because he spent several innings in my lap.

When I had the nerve to push him off, he turned on the charm and started kissing up to the woman next to me. Apparently, with his wagging blue tail, his smile and his poofy hair, she found him irresistible. The next thing I knew he was in her lap! And I hate to say it, but if you look at this picture, I would swear he’s sticking his tongue out at me.

ELBEE Way to go little guy!

The Power of Therapy Dogs

Over many years of volunteering in the neuropsych institute at UCLA, I have had the privilege of watching the Doods do some breathtaking work. I know that I often use the word “privileged” but that’s truly how I feel when I watch them coax a smile from a sad child or enable a patient to momentarily forget his pain. They offer kindness and unconditional acceptance. And they do it simply by being dogs.

ELBEE Excuse me, by being fabulous dogs. Sorry, I had to add my two cents.

Last week I shared a story about Elbee’s positive interaction with a deeply troubled child. Several people told me that it gave them deeper insight into what therapy dogs can actually accomplish. After hearing that, I decided to share another story that speaks to the great work of our pet partners.

It happened a few years ago and involved both Charley and Elbee. Rather than an immediate reaction they slowly gained the trust of a very disturbed teenager.

When we visit our regular units, we usually go into the day room with small groups of patients who want to spend time with the dogs.They gather around,  petting them or grooming them with a very soft brush I bring with me. It generally relaxes everyone and leads to easy conversation, often about the patients’ own pets.

On one particular morning in the adolescent unit, an agitated boy, who chose not to be in the room, was instead causing a major distraction. He kept running by in the hall, yelling and screaming. Occasionally he would step into the room, shout and then leave again.

What was beautiful to see was how the teens in the unit were so protective of Charley. I also want to mention the wonderful professionals working in the NPI. Though it can be a very unpredictable environment, they make sure we’re safe.

The next time we came, the same boy was again acting out but after a few minutes, he walked into the room and sat on the couch. He was slightly disruptive but quieter than he had been. Without warning, he walked over to Charley, lay down on the floor next to him and put his arms around him. The staff and even the patients in the group looked on in surprise.

On the last time that we saw the same teen, it was Elbee’s week to visit. Like it has been since Charley’s passing, it was his turn to step up. Elbee was on the floor with all of the kids, when the boy walked into the room and again sat down on the sofa. Suddenly he got up and lay down on the floor, hugging Elbee just like he had Charley. Then a moment later, I heard him whisper to Elbee, “I love you.”

 

Another Quiet Miracle

 

Recently Elbee had a moment. No, not a diva moment. It was a profound moment of healing. A moment that epitomized the power of every amazing therapy dog.

We had just finished visiting our assigned neuropsych units at UCLA when a staff member asked if I would bring Elbee to see a young patient who had been having a particularly rough day. From what I was later told, the patient had been “agitated, screaming, unable to calm down and unable to maintain safety for self or others.” There had been an indication that seeing a dog would be helpful.

By the time we arrived, the aggression was less but the patient was still irritable. I approached the child, who was sitting on a chair in an alcove of the hallway, not knowing  quite what to expect. When I asked, “Would you like to pet Elbee?” I got a whispered “yes.” We sat and chatted as the child gently stroked Elbee (who, for the record, was an angel) and then wanted to know if it was okay to braid his hair. I already had him in pigtails, so how could I say no.

Since things were going well, I asked, “would you like to see a few of his tricks?” This time I got another quiet yes along with a smile, a smile that grew slightly wider with each trick. A few times, I even let the patient give the commands while Elbee performed like a trouper. It was as if he understood the responsibility of what he was doing.

As Elbee rolled over, crawled, high fived and said his prayers, the child began to applaud which led to the suggestion that we should teach him how to take a bow. Before I knew it, the patient was on the floor next to Elbee demonstrating to him how to do that. It was such a pure moment. Nothing seemed to matter except Elbee, the patient and the bow.

When I later learned of the difficulties that the patient was having, I was almost in disbelief. Our interaction had been incredibly  positive. During the visit I was so engaged with Elbee and the child that I didn’t notice staff members who had been observing. As we said goodbye and prepared to leave, I saw looks of relief and happiness on their faces. I heard a few murmured thank you’s.

Therapy dogs seem to have an intuition about what’s required of them in different situations. I kid about Elbee being a clown, but that morning he stepped up. He was an angel. He was focused on the patient. He was gentle. He was kind. Somewhere his big brother Charley is looking down and smiling.

 

 

We Dodged a Reality Show Bullet

Last week I compared myself to the Kardashian mom which brought this story to mind.

ELBEE What was she thinking?

Elbee is right. What was I thinking? Anyhow it brought to mind this story which I had been meaning to share for some time. Several years ago, before I was one of the few people in America not to have a reality show, I was contacted about being on a reality show with Charley.

I only watch singing and dancing reality shows (yes, Dancing with the Stars is my guilty pleasure) but from what I was told it was like Big Brother with people and dogs. My fifteen minutes of bodybuilding fame were a distant memory and I liked spending time with Charley so I figured, why not.

Ready for my close up!

ELBEE I have to defend Charley since he is no longer here to defend himself. He was not responsible for this. He was coerced. On the other hand, I would have jumped at the chance. I’d be a natural for TV. And thank you Pack Leader for not dragging out a bodybuilding photo. This story is bad enough.

The whole screening process went great! They loved Charley and were stuck with me. We were a package deal. Eventually I was given a huge contract to sign. No it was not huge money wise. It just had a lot of pages.

Never having seen one of those before, I gave it to the lawyer daughter to look over. At first she was shocked simply because I was even thinking of doing this. Then she was even more horrified when she started reading it. There was a confidentially clause that said I would basically have to disappear from my real life for forty days and nights without telling anyone where I was going. What if no one missed me?

Even worse was the nudity clause. I guess if they caught me and Charley naked and brushing our teeth they wanted to be able to use the footage. Eventually the daughter and the young female lawyer from the production company worked out the details. By the way, she confided to the daughter that she would be equally horrified if her mother wanted to do this.

Undeterred, I went to the “big” meeting  where final selections and details were being worked out. To give you an idea of how close we came, all of the dogs that ended up on the show were there that day. Fortunately, for some reason, I came to my senses. I started asking so many questions that they thought I might not have the right attitude. Someone even implied that people would give up their firstborn to be on the show. I couldn’t. She was my lawyer.

For a period of time I regretted my decision. Was I passing up a chance at fame and fortune?

ELBEE Are you kidding me! She was giving up the chance to embarrass herself and poor Charley on national television. 

Much as I hate to admit it, once again Elbee is correct. When it aired that summer I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There was lots of alcohol involved (not for the dogs). There were arguments, tears, confessions. I might have ended up over sharing with all of America!

 

The Vicarious Diva

Originally, I started this post with good news and bad news but it simply wasn’t cutting it. The good news was that recently Elbee had stepped up his game at the hospital and was like a different more humble dog. The bad news was that Gus seemed to have gotten in touch with his inner diva.

ELBEE It wasn’t working because Pack Leader was being disingenuous. Hey, I’ve told you, since Charley’s been gone I’ve had to step up my vocabulary.

This morning I headed into the mountains to do some minimal soul searching and figure out why I couldn’t write the post. It only took me a few steep climbs to realize, and I hate to admit this, that Elbee was right. I was being dishonest with myself. I love the “divadom” of the dogs. I’m like the Kardashian mom. The only differences are that my kids are canine and don’t make money.

Note to the daughters: I’m not talking about you and love you dearly so don’t sue.

I’m sure it stems from my childhood as the ultimate nerd with glasses, braces and orthopedic shoes. In the past, I’ve shared that I spent most of the 80’s (okay and some of the 90’s) overcompensating for those years by becoming a bodybuilding “diva.” Who else waves and blows kisses from the stage? My original involvement in weight lifting may have begun as part of my recuperation from a near fatal car accident, but trust me, the nerd thing added plenty of fuel to the fire.

ELBEE If she doesn’t put up pictures from the archives, I won’t bark for a year.

ELBEE Darn! I thought that might work.

After I owned up to the dog/diva thing, what else was there to do but an impromptu photo shoot. The daughters can’t believe that I put the dogs in these outfits and that they actually cooperate. Even Riley, our 14 year old Golden who is Charley’s uncle and also incredibly patient, took part. Come to think of it, the daughters were never this good when I tried to take the annual holiday photo.

 

ELBEE There were bribes involved. Still, I must admit that although I’ve complained about the glasses in the past, these purple ones give me a certain, je ne sais quoi. Yes, I’ve taken up French.

GUS I hate to be negative but the scarf was a little over the top for my taste.

Gus had another photo op at UCLA on Wednesday. As part of Nurse Appreciation Week, he and his buddy Tommy paid a visit to the Emergency Room. While we were there someone shot this great picture with some of the staff.

GUS I am really sorry to complain again but I have an issue with this photo. Tommy and I are in very awkward poses. We should have demanded a reshoot.

ELBEE OMG he really is turning into a total little diva. I am so proud!

 

The Diva Is Back!

ELBEE Finally a post about me. In respect for Charley’s passing, I have been like a saint waiting my turn.

 

I was hiking with my friend Dennis, solving the world’s problems, when I asked him if he thought the term “diva” had become gender neutral. He said it probably had because  the only divo that came to mind was the singing group Il Divo. Then, never having met a pun he didn’t like, Dennis added that Elbee could have been a “barkitone.” Don’t groan at me. I warned you.

ELBEE Good one. You go Dennis!

It suddenly occurred to me that each of the Doods works in a way that is comparable to a different singer.

ELBEE Where is she going with this?

GUS Even I’m confused.

 

Charley was the classical singer with the most beautiful voice. He was like the Josh Groban of therapy dogs. He could touch your soul. Gus is like the child with the sweet angelic voice that wins hearts and talent shows.

Charley and Gus as a Duo

Which brings me to Elbee. He is the ultimate diva. Whereas Charley and Gus often “sang” as an amazing duo, Elbee is a soloist. He is the Mariah Cary of therapy dogs.

ELBEE OMG I may cry. I love Mariah Carey.

Last week was no exception. He was so happy to be at UCLA that he was even more over the top than usual. It was like he was finally back on tour. He didn’t just walk into the hospital. He made an entrance. When the kids in the neuropsych units sat on the floor, he flopped into their laps. After he did his tricks, he was more concerned with the applause than with the treats.

As I watched him bask in the attention, I realized that he would probably love to have a personal assistant. Then it dawned on me. I am his personal assistant. I chauffeur him, get him food and water, clean up his poop. I don’t get paid enough for this job. Which reminds me, someone who saw us in the hospital asked if I rented him.

It’s hard to believe that Elbee almost didn’t become a therapy dog. When he was a puppy, I contracted a serious virus that had me laid up for months. Most of his time was spent in the house with me. One day when I was finally able to take him for a short walk, I noticed that he was backing up and shying from people. I later learned that I had missed his crucial socialization period at 12 weeks.

If Charley hadn’t been a therapy dog for a few years and if I wasn’t hoping to have another one, I might have given up. Instead I became a woman on a mission. I took Elbee everywhere with me. If someone so much as glanced in his direction, I asked them to say hello and give him a treat. Bike riders in the mountains, strangers on the street, yes, even a few homeless people helped to shape the dog that he is today.

Looking back, did I go to far? Did I create the diva?

ELBEE She may have helped, but I was born fabulous! 

Synchronicity

This week I was planning to write about Elbee returning to work at UCLA, his first time since Charley’s been gone.

ELBEE Finally it’s about me. Uh oh, she said “was.”  Does that mean I’m going to be bumped once again? For the record, it was a triumphant return. I was fabulous.

 

As I was saying, I was going to write about Elbee but after a serendipitous encounter at Providence Tarzana Hospital, I wanted to share the moment. It was all about the simple, sometimes subtle, power of a therapy dog.

Providence is where Nicole, the middle daughter and the one who loves the Doods, works as an ICU nurse. Last Friday, when I took Gus into the hospital, she happened to be there so we stopped on her floor to visit.

By the way, Charley and Elbee loved seeing Nicole in the hospital. They knew where the ICU was and would sit outside and refuse to budge until she came out. As soon as they saw her they would completely lose it and start barking, something they never do when they’re working. It was difficult to explain the situation to people who had no idea why these over excited dogs were allowed in the hospital.

ELBEE Excuse my enthusiasm!

While we were chatting in the corridor, a young girl who was visibly upset walked out of the unit. My daughter explained that she had been caring for the girl’s beloved grandfather who had passed away only a short time before. Tears on her face, the girl walked over to talk to my daughter. I noticed that she seemed to relax when she saw Gus, so I asked if she’d like to pet him.

She immediately dropped to the floor, petting and then hugging Gus. Within seconds, she stopped crying and got a smile on her face as the little guy worked his magic. Simply by sharing his sweetness and unconditional love, Gus had momentarily lightened her sadness.

She was surprised to learn that I was Nicole’s mother but it seemed to make her even more comfortable. She opened up and told us that although she was only 14, she’d known for a long time that she wanted to be a nurse. She even shared that she’d like to volunteer in some capacity. My daughter offered to help in any way that she possibly could.

As I got ready to leave, I realized that I had never asked the girl her name. To my surprise, it was Nicole.

My thoughtful look

ELBEE Although I’m still a bit upset about being pushed to the next post, I get it. That was a nice story. Almost brought a tear to my eye.

 

Big Paw Prints to Follow

ELBEE Thank goodness she changed the title. This post was going to be called Life Goes On which I thought was depressing and kind of a cliche.

Last week I went to UCLA with Gus. Walking into the hospital for the first time since Charley passed was as emotional as walking in with him for the very first time years ago. Carol, a wise woman and honorary “aunt” to the Doods who helps out with PAC, said that Charley would always be by my side to guide me and keep me brave. He definitely was there in spirit that morning.

I asked Marsha, the groomer with all of the magic colors, to give Gus pastel ears and a pastel tail for Easter. To be honest I think it was to create a distraction. I also think I brought Gus instead of Elbee because there was no chance anyone would mistake him for Charley and lead to an awkward moment.

GUS I’m starting to like the colors but with Pack Leader keeping my hair long, about 10 people said that I looked like a sheep. Someone else commented that I looked like a member of an 80’s hair band. What is that?

ELBEE Normally I would be insulted about not going into the hospital but out of respect for my big brother, I get it. And note to self: try to explain to Gus how much P.L. misses the 80’s.

I was very nervous about seeing all of the people at the hospital who miss Charley almost as much as I do. I was afraid that I would end up a blubbering mess. Fortunately, everyone was so kind and supportive. There were hugs and there were tears but the morning was healing. Gus was a big part of that. He comforted me at the same time that he reached out to patients and staff. He showed a certain grace and maturity that I hadn’t seen before.

He really stepped up his game. It was as if he knew that he had some big paw prints to fill. He strode through the lobby with total confidence. Well, as much as a little guy can stride. He was sweeter than ever. A woman in the volunteer office was so enchanted that he became her favorite dog within five minutes. I noticed him doing something that Charley often did. He would sit very still and look around as if assessing the situation to see what he needed to do. Note to the daughters: No I have not lost it. He really did. I have witnesses.

He almost over performed. I’d give him the hand signal for down and he’d follow that but then add a bunch of tricks on his own. He got laughs. He got applause. He won people over. He helped me cope.

All in all the day went well. Gus was exhausted but worked like a champ. Despite more mood swings than I had during menopause and pregnancies put together, I didn’t end up a blubbering mess. That happened later.

At night my husband found a package on the doorstep and said,  “you’ve got something here from UCLA.” Having no idea what to expect, I tore it open and found this beautiful plaque. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of the gesture and the sentiments behind it that the tears started pouring down my face. They were tears of sadness but also of pride and gratitude.