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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Canine Chorus

I didn’t want to trivialize the devastating southern California wildfires by putting up my post today, but figured that we could all use a touch of positivity. Last Sunday about twenty teams from the People Animal Connection met at UCLA Medical Center for our annual caroling event. The spirit of the group is beautiful but as far as singing, and I don’t think I’ll be offending anyone, we suck. Hey, we’re not the PAC singers. Fortunately, the Scattertones, a student acapella group, joined us so we not only looked good, we sounded fabulous.

And you can only imagine how excited I was to have another excuse to decorate the Doods. At Halloween when we doggy dyed Gus purple and gold to meet the Lakers, I asked Marsha the groomer to be sure she had red and green for the holidays. Her thirteen year old son Ryan, their official colorist, was on the job again and outdid himself. Elbee and Gus looked like walking Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we moved through the halls caroling, some of us lip-synching next to more talented singers, we brought holiday cheer all over the hospital. Families and staff were calling out seasons greetings. Patients were waving us into their rooms.

Maybe it was the red, white and green effect but Elbee and Gus did so many mini visits we kept losing our group. A patient, who had been resting quietly in his bed, saw them and burst out laughing. A woman standing in the doorway of her room asked if she could take their picture to show to her ex-husband. She explained that he was in a different hospital and they were competing to see which place had better therapy dogs!

ELBEE As if!

Another woman jumped out of her bed when she saw our group. She told us that the dogs had made her day and that she felt so much better. A few minutes later, as some of us were waiting by the elevator, she practically came running down the hall. With a huge grin on her face, she threw our her arms and proclaimed, “Im healed!”

Some of the interactions were much quieter. There was a shy, seemingly special needs little boy, who suddenly began petting the dogs and chatting. He retreated into his room for a moment but came right back out because he wanted a photo with them.

When we first arrived at UCLA, a young dad who was in the lobby asked if we could come up to visit his daughter. She’d gotten some bad news but she loved dogs so he thought they would help. Later in the morning when we reached her room, the dad was in there alone. His daughter had been taken to the ICU. He was still so appreciative that we’d stopped in and took a photo of Elbee and Gus to share with her.

As many times as I’ve taken part in the caroling. I never cease to be amazed at the joy it brings to so many people. Words don’t seem adequate to capture the mood and the spirit. I have also learned that although they may not sing, the dogs have the purest, sweetest voices of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You Doods

As the Doods and I begin the new year together, I want to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate some of the great work that they’ve done. I had been planning to write this at Thanksgiving but they were so out of control on the holiday that I couldn’t do it.

THE DOODS OMG We acted like dogs.

Charley and Gus became quite a team this past year. Charley, older and wiser now, can still rise to special occasions with Gus as his backup. Gus contributes the energy of a two year old along with an innate sweetness.

Together they brought comfort to the students and faculty at the candlelight vigil for the murdered UCLA professor. They spent a magical morning at an all inclusive camp for special needs children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They taught an anti-bullying group from Compton about unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

 

The week before Christmas, Charley and Gus did a holiday “meet and greet” at UCLA Medical Center. With the dogs sitting in a toy car by the tree, a car which Charley later took for a spin, the mood in the lobby changed from somber to festive. Watching them weave their magic with patients, families and staff was a true gift of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE Excuse me. What am I chopped liver?

I was just about to get to Elbee. He’s a bit of a diva and works better on his own. He thrives on the individual attention.

 

ELBEE I would object but she’s correct. I am rather fabulous.

One day as Elbee and I were waiting for the hospital elevator, I saw a woman pushing a wheelchair for her teenage daughter who had Downs Syndrome. After she assured me that her daughter liked dogs, I brought Elbee over to see her. As we approached, the girl got a huge smile on her face. After Elbee did a few tricks the smile grew from ear to ear. The only thing more beautiful was the look on her mother’s face.

On another occasion, a woman asked me to bring Elbee over to see her son who appeared to be severely disabled. Like the teenage girl, he was also in a wheel chair. I had no idea how much the young man understood, but as Elbee walked over and licked his hand, I said, “Oh he likes you. He’s kissing you.” It was then that the boy made a kiss toward the dog. If not for that interaction I would never have known that he completely understood what was happening. As Elbee waved good bye, the young man sent him another kiss.

As chief leash holder for the Doods, I have been privileged to see so many miracles, large and small. I never cease to be amazed at their intuition and their capacity for kindness and unconditional love, just like they showed the kids from Compton, the campers with special needs, the crowd in mourning and countless others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Holiday Heroes

 

Miracle Workers

Yesterday, Donna, my fellow Yom Kippur felon (her words not mine, although I wish I’d said them) and I decided to take Gus and Tommy to UCLA to spread a little Christmas cheer.

GUS I was there on Yom Kippur but I’m innocent. Do I need  a lawyer?

CHARLEY If you’re clueless about the Yom Kippur remarks, see Pack Leader’s October post, “Oy Vey.”

 

And it couldn’t hurt that Hanukkah and Christmas fell at the same time this year. I was thinking that it might give us some bonus points to make up for our non-observant Yom Kippur or anything else we may have done. Not to mention, what a great excuse for dressing up the dogs. They both look fabulous in red.

I also got a sign from the universe as I was heading to UCLA. The middle daughter, remember the one who likes the dogs, sent me a photo of a hair clip that she’d found while going through some old boxes. It had been given to her by my dearest friend Eileen on a Christmas long ago. As I shared in the Oy Vey post, Eileen passed away several years ago and way too young. With the sudden appearance of the clip, I could feel her smiling down on us.

A Gift from Eileen

This is a tough time of year for anyone to be in the hospital.  For parents with a sick child it’s even more difficult. How great if we could bring them a few moments of happiness.

As we crossed the threshold into the hospital, the Christmas miracles began. Suddenly stress and sadness were replaced by smiles and laughter. When we finally made it up to Pediatrics and then the PICU, I’m not sure if the staff, the patients or their families were most excited to see Gus and Tommy. Countless times we heard the words, “This makes my day.”

From the toddler in her red Christmas dress to the little girl who had brain surgery, they momentarily put aside their pain and unhappiness to pet and hug the dogs. I wish I had the words to express how moving it was to see Gus or Tommy on the bed cuddled in a child’s arms. The only things more touching were the looks on their parents’ faces.

Although Gus and Tommy barely weigh 50 pounds between them, together they brought tons of holiday love to UCLA Medical Center. I hope Eileen is proud.

MERRY CHRISTMAS                          
HAPPY HANUKKAH

You Did What??

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Last week, Charley, Gus and several other dogs in the UCLA People Animal Connection brought trick or treat to the patients at Mattel Children’s Hospital.  Cheering up the kids was an absolute delight but having another excuse to dress up the dogs was the icing on the cake. I have to say they looked fabulous in orange tinsel, mylar pumpkin wreaths and festive headbands.

ELBEE She forgot to mention the wig on Gus. Personally I think she took advantage of his age and inexperience. I refused to wear it which is probably why I got left home.     

20161027_100846Everything was going well until someone from Telemundo, a huge Spanish language TV station that was covering the event, asked if anyone could speak Spanish. I can “habla” a little and I like practicing so I raised my hand. Next thing I know I’m in front of the camera for an on air interview. Then the camera man from another Spanish language station came over to ask a few questions.

At first it seemed like fun. Then I realized that being able to “habla” a bit is not the same as having it recorded for posterity. People would be able to pause their televisions because they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Some might even think it was a weird new sitcom.

Later that day the middle daughter was over to visit and confirmed my worst fears. When I told her about the interview, her response was, “You did what?” Then I told her about the second one and she gasped, “What were you thinking?”

20161105_084012CHARLEY  I hate to say it, but I’m on team daughter for this one. And yes, I wore the wig last year. I should be up for sainthood.

 

On the bright side, I didn’t get any hate mail from the Spanish speaking community. Hey, maybe I can extend my 15 minutes of fame. Dancing with the Stars has never wanted me but how about a telenovela?

THE DOODS Ay, Dios Mio!!

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