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 Carey 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.