An Unexpected Smile

 

This week the Doods worked their special brand of magic at the adult health center that we visit. As I shared in my September 11th post, it’s a facility where people ranging in age from their 20’s up to their 80’s spend their days. Many are dealing with issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD or depression. Others have severe physical disabilities.

From the moment the chime sounded as we entered the front door, Elbee and Gus were on their game. They seemed more excited than usual in their interactions with the core of regulars and the staff members who were waiting to greet them. Gus even started to do a few tricks on his own.

Once in the main room, we slowly made our way around, stopping to chat with several of the people we’ve come to know over the past few years. Many sit in their usual spots waiting for me to bring the dogs over. Others will let me know with a simple gesture that they’d like a visit. One very sweet girl who has Downs Syndrome absolutely loves Gus and Elbee and will often follow us around.

At one point, we approached a few people seated on a sofa, including a man in his late 50’s whom we’ve seen many times. He’s usually very quiet and although he doesn’t seem uncomfortable around the dogs, he never really interacts with them. On this particular day, however, as Gus started to do his “dance,” the man suddenly smiled. He continued to smile as I let him give them each a treat.

At that moment, Lisa, a clinical consultant, happened to be walking by and stopped in her tracks. She looked at the man and asked in pleasant surprise, “Did I just see you smile?” I could sense how excited she was.

Coincidentally, Lisa is the person who found me and the Doods and invited us to the center. She is also one of the kindest people you would ever hope to meet. It wasn’t until a few minutes later when I was in her office talking to her and one of the nurses, that I found out how momentous this was. The man had severe depression and they hadn’t seen him smile in a year!

I was so moved and thought the morning couldn’t get any more emotional. I was wrong. As I was getting ready to leave, a sad looking young man who had been sitting alone at a table all morning, waved me over. When I asked if he wanted to see the dogs, he said, “No, I just wanted you to know how sorry I was to hear about your big dog Charley.” His words were so simple and sincere, they brought tears to my eyes.

An Embarrassment of Recognition

This was a very special week. As you may have seen on Facebook, the People Animal Connection at UCLA was honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. In the words of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, “We had such fun recognizing the amazing and heartwarming work of one of the most comprehensive Animal-Assisted and Activity programs in the nation.”

Let’s face it. I’ve never been personally invited to a supervisors meeting and there I was in the front row with Gus and some of his canine co-workers. Several of us were awarded certificates, but we all know who the real heroes are. ”

ELBEE Excuse me, I wasn’t invited? 

 

GUS I was thrilled to be there and I don’t mean to be a complainer but do you see how Pack Leader is holding me and how Tommy’s person Donna is holding him? It’s happened before. They really need to work on that.

To my surprise, I also received an honor from UCLA Health this week. Last Friday, Erin Rice, the wonderful woman who heads PAC, said that she’d meet me and the Doods at the hospital on Monday morning. Having been busy with family or more likely having a senior moment, I asked, “for what?” She didn’t want to give it all away but simply said that it was for an award.

Once we got there, we were ushered into an auditorium where there was a sizeable crowd of people, including the Chief Patient Experience Officer and the Chief Medical Officer! Three of the therapists that we’ve been lucky enough to work with for years were in the audience and came up too offer their support and to congratulate us. In my usual spirit of honesty, I admit that I was still somewhat clueless.

As the ceremony progressed, Erin and a few other people said some beautiful things about us. They talked about special patient interactions with the dogs and about some of the work we’d done outside of the hospital like the candlelight vigil and the anti-bullying group. It was the most surreal experience. I was moved to tears.

I found out that I was receiving the CICARE award. I admit that I’ve been struggling about explaining what the award is for because I didn’t want to brag too much but I am so honored and humbled by it that I’m going to share. I was informed that it’s for “healing humankind, one patient at a time by improving health, alleviating suffering and delivering acts of kindness.”

If I have done any of that it’s only because I have been fortunate enough to have Charley and then Gus and Elbee at my side. As I’ve acknowledged before, I truly feel privileged to hold their leashes while they work. I may be the facilitator but they are the healers and the miracle workers. I also want to give a special thank you to Charley. Although he has been gone for several months, his spirit still guides me.

 

 

Me, the Mountains and the Stick

The mountains are my sanctuary, my think tank and my personal fitness center. I’m so comfortable up there that even my sense of direction is better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE That’s not saying a lot. Sometimes we pee on trees to make sure we can find our way back.

Okay, I may be pushing it but I figured I’d better justify this post because I’ll probably get some static from my daughter/mothers. They think I have a little streak of crazy but I prefer to call it a streak of adventure.

Awhile ago, I found a stick that gives me a certain sense of security. I started carrying it whenever I’m hiking alone. I use it for balance and for checking under rocks but figure I can use it as a weapon if I ever have to. I would share a picture of the stick but I don’t want anyone questioning my sanity or laughing at me. And no, I don’t think it has magic powers.

ELBEE Let me put it in perspective. If I fetched, which I don’t, the stick would almost be too ridiculous for me to bring back.

I was walking on dirt Mulholland when I decided to take the stick and head up a ridge trail that only the “regulars” use. For the record,  I’ve done it countless times. I was enjoying the climb, watching at least twenty ravens soaring over the canyon, putting on a spectacular air show.

Then there it was, right in front of me, a big rattlesnake. As you may know I’m not a huge fan of snakes but I do respect them and try not to bother them. This one, however, started getting on my nerves. It wouldn’t budge so that I could go by. Finally, I gave it a gentle nudge with the stick and it took off.

Snake on the Ridge
Relative of the Snake on the Ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started climbing again, using the stick to make sure that none of the snake’s relatives were hiding in the rocks or bushes. Unfortunately, as I got near the top, I missed one little turn and instead of arriving back on the main trail, ended up looking down a mini cliff.

ELBEE She was probably “rattled ” after meeting the snake.

GUS Good one Elbee!

Since I had absolutely no desire to back track, I decided it was “doable” and slowly slid my way down. FYI: I’m writing this post from my house and not from a hospital bed.

Seriously, I am truly appreciative of my ability to climb these beautiful trails, especially with the wild fires that have been ravaging California. I also have such gratitude for my health and for my sense of adventure, which I admit has grown stronger as I’ve gotten older. I think that challenging yourself is a way to feel vibrant and alive, no matter your age.

It’s like the grandpa in the commercial who tells his wife he’s going fishing and then goes surfing with his grandson. I totally get it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How’d Ya Do That?!

Recently I was waiting in the lobby of a hospital while one of the daughters was having surgery. A woman with a Golden Retriever approached and quietly asked if I’d like to meet a therapy dog. Since I have never really had a visit from a therapy dog other than the Doods, who we all know are my live in therapists, I was fascinated. It was so interesting to be on the receiving end of the visit.

The interaction was lovely, not a term I use loosely, and one that has probably never been used to describe me. If I’m being honest, the Doods and I are more of a circus act. Although I will never go as far as the handler I saw who dresses like a clown. I’m terrified of clowns. Anyhow, the woman and I chatted as her very sweet dog rested its head in my lap. It made me realize that the style of visit is probably unique to each team.                                                                  

Speaking of style, take a look at this photo. It really has absolutely nothing to do with this post but I had to share. And if you want to know who’s responsible for this look, check out the middle daughter hiding her head.

 

 

 

ELBEE For the record, notice that I’m also hiding my head even though I’m torn. I’m not sure if this is sad or fabulous. I will admit that I’m strangely jealous.

Seriously, some interactions are determined by the personalities of the dog and the handler and others are determined by the situation. The common thread is that the dogs bring about results that can’t be easily explained. The young boy who hasn’t smiled in a week grinning from ear to ear. The man who awakens from a coma and remembers the presence of the dogs in his bed. The aggressive teen who ends up hugging a visiting dog. There is no simple answer.

Maybe it’s the time of year with Yom Kippur as a day of remembrance, but my thoughts turned to my brother Stan, who as I’ve shared in earlier posts, passed away from cancer when he was in his forties. Stan was a tv director who did magic as a hobby. He was so often asked, “How’d ya do that?”(and by the way, he would never tell me) that he used the phrase on a business card. A laminated version of that card has been hanging on a hook in my garage for the twenty years or so that he’s been gone.

As I glanced at it the other day, it dawned on me that what all of our amazing therapy dogs do is actually magic. Sometimes it’s close up magic as they cuddle with a sick child or help a patient forget her pain. Other times it’s stage magic as they entertain a group in the neuropsych units, charm a class of school students or distract an anxious family waiting to hear about a loved one in surgery. We may not put it into words, but as you watch the dogs in action, you have to wonder, “How’d ya do that?”