In the wake of the horrendous shootings in Florida, I have chosen to write about a man who represents the best of our country. Frank Callahan was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1945 after receiving a Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action as a hospital corpsman attached to the Marines. He was a special agent for the FBI from 1951-1979.
Above all, he was a gentleman, a wonderful husband, father to four daughters and friend to many. He was also a buddy to the Doods. During his last hospital stay, shortly before he passed, I had the privilege of bringing the dogs in to visit and cheer him up. He was resting when we reached his room but as soon as I tapped on the door, he woke up, saw the dogs and got the sweetest smile on his face.
He wanted to pet the dogs so I lifted Charley and Elbee gently onto his bed. His smile grew even wider as they snuggled close to him while he rubbed their heads. We spent the next few minutes in peaceful conversation, totally forgetting his illness. I took photos for his daughter Tracy to share with the family.
Frank passed away at home days later. He was buried with honors in Arlington cemetery. My deep gratitude goes to him and to his family for those precious moments we spent in the hospital and for the sweet memory of him with the Doods. At difficult times we need to focus on the people who make our country great.
Recently Gus soloed at UCLA. Well, I went along but only to hold his leash and provide car service. I honestly think if he had a license, he might have gone by himself. When we got there, he strutted through the huge marble lobby like he owned the place.
CHARLEY AND ELBEE We tried to tell him about Uber but he just didn’t get it.
While he was doing the lobby strut, a few people from administration happened to see us and invited Gus (and me) into their offices. They offered a rug to lie down on and a bowl of water any time we needed it so I think we know who they were trying to impress.
GUS If they’d thrown in a chew bone I would have spent the day with them. They seemed like lovely people.
Up on the fourth floor, Gus worked the neuropsych units like a pro. From the kids, to the teens, to the adults, he knew how to behave with each group of patients. It was almost as if Charley and Elbee had coached him. With his tail wagging, he pranced up and down the halls as the younger kids took turns holding his leash with me. One little girl was so taken with him that she ran to her room and brought her special stuffed animal for him to take home. By the way, he started doing some tricks that I didn’t know were in his repertoire.
CHARLEY AND ELBEE Of course we coached him. We have to protect our reputations. We’re practically doctors. Plus we’d get bored if we just sat around all day, so we chat. For fun we also help him work on his tricks.
Later in the morning, while we were waiting for my car, a woman quietly approached to thank me and to share how grateful she was for the work that we do with the dogs. She said her son was one of the patients that Gus had visited on the fourth floor and that it had made his day. She then walked away to wait for her car. It was one of those simple, touching moments that is its own reward.
GUS I loved going to the hospital and working solo because I got all of the attention. I just didn’t know it was going to be so exhausting. I have to talk to Charley and Elbee about this.
The Doods We’d like to say kudos, bravo and woof to our self appointed pack leader on her last post. In our humble opinion (well, Charley is humble) it was insightful and accurate. We’ve talked among ourselves and think her daughters may be a little jealous of us.
Now that the Doods have weighed in, here’s the good news and the bad news. All three of my daughters read my last post about dogs being better than children. Here’s the really bad news. Mother of the year is definitely off the table. Danielle (yes, I’m naming names) fell back on the old saying, “if you can’t say anything nice.” I’m going to cut her some slack because she has a two year old and a four month old. I’m sure if she wasn’t sleep deprived she’d have had some wonderful things to say.
On facebook she asked (or begged) for her sister Nicole to chime in. Nicole suggested they write their own blog called, “Our crazy blonde mom who looks like her dogs.” They shot that one down because they were afraid I’d like it. They were correct.
Since Nicole is the one who actually likes the dogs, I asked if she’d mind sharing the post, meaning with friends. Instead she shared it with Jennifer, the oldest, and the one who pretends that she hates the dogs. Jennifer’s response was, “Lets see the dogs take care of her in her old age.” She did have a point.
Jennifer really surprised me one day when she told me that her friends had been looking at the blog and cracking up. I was so flattered, assuming they’d been reading it. She said, “no mom, they couldn’t understand about the movie with Charley and the whole thing about you and the dogs looking alike, so I just showed them the pictures. They were laughing so hard they were crying.”
GUSYes, I’m in a shopping cart. Don’t ask. Elbee told me that to be funny, Danielle sent Pack Leader a video of a man dancing with his dog and asked if any of us could do that. Now she wants to take lessons with me. Oh no!
Testing for Pet Partners with Gus was stressful but it was nothing compared to my very first ever testing. I’d never studied or taken a test with a dog, not even one as smart as Charley.
It wasn’t that the test was going to be tricky or full of surprises. Everything had been explained and illustrated in the workshop and in the huge book we were given (and which I read more than once and highlighted). It was just so different from anything I’d ever done. I certainly didn’t want to let Charley down, or worse, explain to my laughing children why I’d failed. Then, just as I was getting it together, someone told me that if you’re nervous, your emotions travel down the leash to your dog. Great! I had to worry about upsetting him with my issues.
In the weeks before the test, I drove the family nuts with my concerns, questions, and need for support. When I made the mistake of telling the kids that the evaluation would begin as soon as I left the car, they had a field day with that information. They convinced me that people with walkie-talkies (cell phones weren’t big yet) would be hiding behind trees and reporting on my behavior. If Charley or I did anything wrong, our mug shots would be sent to testing central.
After all of their kidding and practically doing skits at my expense, I was totally surprised when we arrived at the testing site on the UCLA campus. A friendly girl named Heather, who was in plain site, walked up and greeted us. When I asked about spies, she assured me there were none, and looked at me as if I was insane.
When the evaluation began, my genius dog sat down at my side and gazed up at me. The examiner said, “That’s perfect. Just what we want to see, a connection between handler and dog.”
CHARLEY Pardon the interruption but obviously he didn’t realize that I was looking at her as if to say, “Get a grip!” Yes, nerves do travel down the leash. I am normally very calm but she was ruining my chi. And for the record, did she really have to make me stay up all night and listen to that book.
As I explained with Gus, the testing is part obedience and part aptitude. Charley breezed through the basic obedience. He walked calmly by my side on a loose leash with all sorts of distractions around us. Nothing phased him. There were people going by in wheel chairs and walkers. Others were yelling and staggering before they came over and asked if they could pet him. I, on the other hand, jumped about a foot off the floor when someone dropped a book behind us. When it was time to have the evaluator brush him, someone else hug him and a few people pet him at the same time, he acted as if he was at the spa.
We only had one little snag. There is an exercise on the evaluation called “neutral dog.” Two handlers approach each other from several feet away, shake hands, say, “what’s up?” and continue walking past each other. Charley wasn’t supposed to show more than casual interest in the other dog.
As luck would have it, the neutral dog was a cute Golden Retriever and Charley has a thing for cute Golden Retrievers. He did everything short of ask her for a date. If I had to guess, I’d say he got her phone number. Fortunately we were only scored down a point.
I was overjoyed when we passed the test. It was partly because Charley was my very first, official therapy dog but even more so it was because we were considered a team. As a non-athletic kid who’d never done sports, this was my very first team and I was kind of like captain!
CHARLEY Captain? Are you kidding me? Her nerves were so bad at testing, I was ready to have a bowl of wine, and I rarely drink. And I think we all know who’s captain. By the way, I did get the cute Golden Retriever’s phone number.
In the spirit of the new year, I have yet another confession. I like to write until I make myself laugh. I guess that makes me the arbiter of my own humor which is probably not a good thing. And while I’m over sharing, I admit that I prefer it when the Doods take over the blog. I told the daughters that I felt as if I were channeling them. If you recall, when these same daughters were children, I told them that our dogs talked to me. Good thing a friend told my grandchildren that I was not crazy, just unconventional. Maybe that should be my epitaph. “She was unconventional.”
Back to the main topic of the day…Gus, my newly minted therapy dog and the second youngest dog volunteering at UCLA. Oops I’m bragging again. Coincidentally, Gus passed his Pet Partners evaluation with a perfect score on the same morning that my grandson was born. I am well aware that I should not put these two events in the same sentence, probably not even in the same post, but I got the call as I was stuck in L.A. traffic on the way to testing.
Since I have never completely overcome my childhood as a nerdy, over achiever, any kind of testing is stressful for me. When I had to renew my drivers license, I read the book six times and took notes. Even though Charley and Elbee have tested every two years and I knew exactly what to expect, I was still nervous going in with Gus.
CHARLEY He was lucky she didn’t make him pull an all-nighter like the first timewith me.
The evaluation is part obedience and part aptitude, mine and the dogs! To make matters worse, the handler (that would be me) and the dog are scored separately. Theoretically, Gus could outscore me or even worse, pass the test when I failed. These are both secrets I would carry to my grave and would definitely not share with the daughters. In my next post, I will tell you what a field day they had the very first time I was getting ready to test Charley.
Let me just say that Gus breezed through the evaluation. He was 25 pounds of sweetness and confidence and made me look good. It’s amazing how well it reflects on you if your dog is well behaved, kind of like with your children. That reminds me. When one of my daughters was a teenager, she offered me a deal. She could behave at home and make my life peaceful or behave out in the world so that other people would think I was doing a good job of parenting, but there was no way she could do both. I’m not naming names but it was the lawyer.
GUSDo you see that picture? That’s exactly how I felt after the Pet Partner’s evaluation. The test was no problem but calming you-know-who down was exhausting. My big brothers warned me. I should have listened. Thank goodness I don’t have to do it again for two years!
Before I start bragging about the work that the Doods accomplish, I need to vent about something totally unrelated. Skip this part if you’re not interested in hearing me complain.
I went to lift weights last night since I’m vying to be the strongest grandma on the block. It’s not quite Ms. Venice Beach (yes, I was Ms. Venice Beach) but it’s a goal. Personally, I think my daughters should be thrilled that I’m now obsessed with the dogs and not my biceps. For years I was the carpool/ bodybuilder mom with the fake tan and way too much spandex. In my defense, I apologized to the kids for that decade. But hey, it was the 80’s. Everyone wore spandex. I did compete again in the 90’s but we’ll discuss that some other time.
Back to last night. There was a middle aged man working out. During his exercises he screamed and grunted even more than anyone I’d ever heard at a hard core muscle gym. I didn’t make that much noise when I was in labor! He kept refilling his water bottle from the small cooler, flooding the floor. Then he walked by me and burped. The burp was followed by some sort of hanging stretch where his loose shorts slid down and revealed more of a butt crack than I ever hoped to see. It was the stuff of nightmares. There, I feel better. Now back to the Doods.
Recently the people at UCLA asked if we wanted to do a short piece about why we volunteer with PAC (the People Animal Connection). I jumped all over that. I could write about my dogs and someone might actually read it. I decided to copy David Letterman and go with a top ten list. Interestingly, my late brother Stan, whose dogs seemed to train themselves, had a Lab named Dave. He’d heard that Letterman had a dog named Stan so it seemed like a fair trade.
CHANGE OF MOOD ALERT: Here are the top ten reasons I volunteer with the Doods (not necessarily in order):
For the teenage patient who jumped out of her hospital bed when my dog walked into her room, and yelled, “this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me”
For the sad young man in the wheelchair who smiled when he saw my dog, prompting his mom to say she’d “seen a miracle”
For another wheelchair bound young man who couldn’t speak but who made a kiss when Elbee licked his hand
For the patient who recovered from a coma and said that the only thing he remembered was the presence of the dogs in his bed
For the boy with severe OCD who couldn’t stop washing his hands but who summoned up the courage to pet Charley
For the woman in tears who asked if she could have a moment with the dog before she went back into her mother’s room
For the woman walking down the street whose husband had passed away 3 years ago, but who wanted to thank me for the dog visits when he was at UCLA
For the anxious family members in the waiting room who light up when they see the dogs
For the woman who had been catatonic for several days but who smiled and petted Charley when he nuzzled her
For all of the people on campus who smile, wave and call out “hi” to Charley and Elbee