The Doods Make the Day

 

For the past few years, I’ve been taking the Doods to an adult health center. Close to 100 people, ranging in age from their 20’s up to their 70’s and a few in their eighties, spend their days at the facility. Many are dealing with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, dementia or depression. Others have severe physical disabilities.

A chime sounds as we walk in the front door and the dogs are instantly greeted by an excited crowd. There is a core of regulars who know the Doods and wait for their arrival as soon as they see them on the schedule. The appreciative staff members are always there to welcome us.

The center offers a wide range of activities. For instance, there are discussion and anger management groups, as well as light exercise or physical therapy sessions. Between activities, however, some just sit waiting at the long lunch tables or sprawl on couches scattered around the room. A few chat with each other while many keep to themselves.

I never quite know what to expect once we get to the central area. A sad looking man will suddenly get up from the couch, smile and start petting the dogs. An agitated woman will calm down and hug them. The people at the lunch tables will call out for me to bring them over. There is a ripple effect of positivity and happiness. There is more conversation.

Many of the regulars have an established routine with the Doods. Some of their interactions may seem odd but it’s moving to watch them reach out to the dogs. For a few minutes they forget their struggles as Elbee and Gus offer unconditional love and acceptance. There is no judgment.

One man always apologizes for not having dog treats. I slip him a few to feed the ever hungry Elbee. There is an elderly woman who often cries when she holds Gus but I was told that was her way of letting her emotions out. There is another man who runs over as soon as he sees us to tell me what wonderful dogs they are and how much he likes them. He just doesn’t want to touch them because he’s afraid he’ll get fleas.

ELBEE Normally I would be offended but under the circumstances, I understand.

There is one very handsome, physically handicapped young man who truly touches my heart. He is in a motorized wheelchair which he can operate despite extremely crippled hands. He speaks with difficulty but understands everything. He has a smile that lights up his face.

He always stays in one place at a lunch table so I bring the dogs to him. He was able to reach Charley and now Elbee but I pick up Gus so that he can pet him. We’ve even worked out a way for me to fit treats between his fingers so that he can feed them.

Due to life happening, last week was the first time that I’d been there in awhile. I could immediately sense how glad he was to see the dogs but it was something so simple that let me know how much he really cared. Instead of remaining at the table, he made the effort to move his chair to follow us around the room. It was a special morning.

A well deserved rest

 

 

 

 

 

A Double Dose of Doodle

A few weeks ago I posted about my long time friend Roberta who is waging the most determined fight against brain cancer. Roberta is so tough that if anyone can scare cancer, she’s the one.

She has the rare gift of acknowledging reality, working with it and creating the best possible scenario. In this case she has developed a whole arsenal of medical and emotional support. That includes, as I shared in the other post, the neighborhood dogs who visit when she’s working out in her garage and the Doods. The first time I went to visit I brought Gus. Last week it was the dynamic duo, Gus and Elbee.

As soon as we drove up to her house, the front door flew open and she came out to greet us, hair and makeup done. And you know I consider that a big plus.

ELBEE It’s no secret. I do too.

She was in a great mood, positive, upbeat and welcoming. There was laughter. There was a lovely lunch.

There was also a bit of dog chaos. The minute the Doods pranced though the door they became the center of attention. Roberta was running around with them, applauding all of their tricks, sneaking them treats every time I turned my back. Then as they finally tired out, she sprawled on the floor with both of them for some unconditional dog love and support.

As she was resting with Gus and Elbee, gently petting them, we began talking quietly about how much the time with the dogs means to her. That’s when she urged me to do this follow up because she wanted people to truly understand the impact that dogs, and particularly therapy dogs, can have on someone who is fighting for his or her life.

I asked Roberta if she would send me an email expressing how the dogs are affecting her. I thought it would mean so much more coming directly from someone who is experiencing dog therapy rather than from my observations. It’s difficult to do this with hospital patients because of confidentiality issues.

She wrote some extremely touching things about me that modesty prevents me from sharing. Oh who am I kidding. Showoff that I am, I’ll tell you one. She said the dogs were “unique and amazing” because they take after me.

ELBEE I was so proud that Pack Leader was staying out of it but I guess she couldn’t help herself.

Seriously, Roberta did say that she feels so great when she knows the Doods are coming over. She can hardly wait until they arrive. She absolutely loves to roll around on the floor with my “incredible animals,” and yes, “give them dog biscuits, the best variety,” when I’m not looking.  She also wrote, ” It is a thrill to have them in my house, pet them and gain peace of mind. How bad can the world be when dogs and their leaders exist to help others.” Amen Roberta. I am proud to call you my friend.

 

 

Yentas by Proxy

In my June post A Different Dynamic, I wrote about how much Charley’s passing had changed the rhythm of the pack, especially during our walks. Now there is a new twist. It seems that two fluffy white dogs instead of three are less intimidating. People feel even more comfortable stopping to chat. And yes, I’m a yenta so I probably encourage it.

As soon as anyone approaches, Gus immediately cuddles up to them with tail wagging and a smile on his face. Elbee, as we know, is the canine answer to Mariah Carey. He will still sometimes do his obnoxious bark but he loves being noticed.

ELBEE Excuse me. I have a lot to say. If Pack Leader would pay attention, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.

People get so comfortable petting the Doods that they talk about all sorts of personal things.

ELBEE Maybe because she brags to everyone we meet that we’re therapy dogs. 

One woman asked if I was a dog walker. When I said no, she looked a little disappointed. Then she explained that she needed help with her own dog because she was having shoulder problems. She was only putting off surgery because she had heart issues. We took off before I heard the rest of her medical history.

Then there was the woman working in the garden in front of her house. As she was petting Gus and Elbee, she went into a diatribe about her crazy neighbor across the street. If it was all true, I’m never walking over that way again.

A man passing by on a busy street suddenly stopped to see the dogs. After a casual conversation, he began sharing or maybe oversharing about his divorce and how it was all his fault. Apparently, he really wanted to win her back. I think he kept petting them so that I would commiserate or offer advice.

ELBEE She takes us for a walk and all of a sudden she’s “Dear Abby” of the street. What concerns me is that I’m becoming a yenta by association. Just look at this picture. And I’m starting to have a lot more opinions.

 

 

 

GUS I’m just a nice, friendly kid…kind of a people pleaser. I don’t know how I keep getting caught up in all of this stuff. I don’t want to be accused of aiding and abetting a yenta. Would I have to get the lawyer daughter to defend me?

Aside from all of the conversations, we get some very interesting commentary. An older man, possibly homeless (yes I’m judging) passed us and said, “Oh it’s the foofy dogs and the lady with the foofy hair.”

ME AND ELBEE Really??

 

Perhaps my favorite was an elderly lady driving an “elderly” Mercedes who pulled up next to us and rolled down her window. As she puffed on a cigarette and coughed, she said, “You and the dogs add a lot of class to the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

 

UCLA Pups on Parade

I was in the middle of writing this when we had a massive power outage in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was the universe telling me that my post sucked. I’m going to assume it was just a result of the heat wave we’re having and “power on.”

ELBEE If that was supposed to be funny, I should be doing stand-up. 

At the risk of sounding corny and emotional, I have to say that the Fourth of July was very special this year. No matter what side of the political, social or grocery aisle (shout out to all you vegans) people were on, there was a real sense of wanting to reach out and connect with each other.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t run to have Marsha, Gus’s groomer/colorist, dye his ears and tail red and blue as soon as I knew that he was going to be in a parade. She even came up with the idea of putting paper plates over his ears to keep the color where it was supposed to be while she was applying it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE I admit that I was a little jealous until I saw that photo. Paper plates on my ears! As if!

GUS It’s the price of beauty.

Since we had to do the color a few days before the event, I sort of forgot about it until I took the dogs walking. Almost everyone we passed smiled and wished us a happy fourth. There was a pervasive sense of patriotism.

On the day of the parade, we met in Pacific Palisades with several of the other teams from the UCLA People Animal Connection. From the moment we arrived,   the atmosphere was incredibly warm and friendly. People seemed truly happy to be uniting in appreciation of America. It was a celebration of our history and our freedom.

 

I had been in the parade a couple of times but this year seemed different. The crowd was larger and if possible more enthusiastic.

 

Gus was so excited, his red and blue tail never stopped wagging. Before we started walking, he flirted with Ella, a Golden Retriever, and drooled over Gracie, a darling Chihauhau who is the smallest dog in the program in terms of size but not of heart.

As we started down Sunset Boulevard with all of the other dogs, Gus played to the crowd. He visited with spectators along the route and even did a few impromptu dance moves. With the children, he was spectacular. I have never seen so many smiling faces. Okay, once or twice he got a little tired and I had to carry him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the other two parades, Charley was by my side, greeting celebrants, young and old. As you know, we lost him this year but we also lost Tovah, another special member of PAC. She was a beautiful Dachshund who happened to be Charley’s “girlfriend.” They often worked events, including the parade, together, with Tovah riding in her wagon as she got older.

I cherish this photo of them. It will always represent the Fourth of July to me. Without even trying, Gus is once again following in his big brother’s paw prints. He’s carrying on in the tradition of Charley and Tovah, making them both proud.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Therapy Dogaholic

This week I decided to rework the post that started it all, Confessions of a Happy Dogaholic. Only a few people saw it because I was nervous about showing it to anyone. Now that I’ve overshared all over the place, I thought why not this too.

ELBEE Personally I think it was just a slow news day.

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with the dogs. I talk about them incessantly which I’m sure is why so many people encouraged me to write about them in the first place. They were probably hoping I’d shut up and stop talking about them.

ELBEE Good luck with that. Wait, it’s about us. Keep talking.

There were even one or two people who hinted that I might want to join some sort of 12-step program. That was never going to happen. We all know that I enjoy my dog addiction. It’s not causing liver damage and I really can’t get with the whole anonymous concept. Hey, remember, in the 80’s and 90’s I was a competitive bodybuilder. Does that scream anonymous on any level?

ELBEE Where does she find these things?? I threatened to boycott this blog and even offered not to bark for a year if she’d stop. I give up.

GUS I shouldn’t admit it but I’m kind of starting to like them. I think all the therapy has really helped me cope.

 

Hey, old habits die hard. I often wondered what had triggered my love of dogs but didn’t have an “aha” moment until one day when I was looking at some of my baby pictures. Two things jumped out at me. First, I was a really unattractive baby. Second, there was some sort of adorable dog in almost every photo.

In retrospect, I think they were an attempt to distract from my looks. I also have a suspicion that they were rented or borrowed since they seemed to vary from month to month. My mother was so sweet and kind, I’m sure she was trying to help me out. At least with the cute dog/ugly baby thing going on, people had something to work with. They could say, “aw how darling” and still pass a lie detector test.

Today I am grateful to all of those anonymous dogs and to the ones who actually were our pets like Killer, the sweetest Cocker Spaniel in the world. From the time I was a little girl, they turned me into an animal lover. I am even more grateful to the late Charley and to Elbee and Gus.

ELBEE Excuse me. A great name like Killer and I get stuck with Elbee.

I’ve written that there are pivotal moments in life. Being a passenger in a near-fatal car accident was one of mine. Another was the very first time that I walked into UCLA Medical Center with Charley by my side. So thank you to the Doods, even you Elbee, for turning me into a therapy dogaholic.

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

When I come home may be the time 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Although 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.”

 

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.