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! 

Big Paw Prints to Follow

ELBEE Thank goodness she changed the title. This post was going to be called Life Goes On which I thought was depressing and kind of a cliche.

Last week I went to UCLA with Gus. Walking into the hospital for the first time since Charley passed was as emotional as walking in with him for the very first time years ago. Carol, a wise woman and honorary “aunt” to the Doods who helps out with PAC, said that Charley would always be by my side to guide me and keep me brave. He definitely was there in spirit that morning.

I asked Marsha, the groomer with all of the magic colors, to give Gus pastel ears and a pastel tail for Easter. To be honest I think it was to create a distraction. I also think I brought Gus instead of Elbee because there was no chance anyone would mistake him for Charley and lead to an awkward moment.

GUS I’m getting used to the colors but with Pack Leader keeping my hair long, about 10 people said that I looked like a sheep. Someone else commented that I looked like a member of an 80’s hair band. What is that?

ELBEE Normally I would be insulted about not going into the hospital but out of respect for my big brother, I get it. And note to self: try to explain to Gus how much P.L. misses the 80’s.

I was very nervous about seeing all of the people at the hospital who miss Charley almost as much as I do. I was afraid that I would end up a blubbering mess. Fortunately, everyone was so kind and supportive. There were hugs and there were tears but the morning was healing. Gus was a big part of that. He comforted me at the same time that he reached out to patients and staff. He showed a certain grace and maturity that I hadn’t seen before.

He really stepped up his game. It was as if he knew that he had some big paw prints to fill. He strode through the lobby with total confidence. Well, as much as a little guy can stride. He was sweeter than ever. A woman in the volunteer office was so enchanted that he became her favorite dog within five minutes. I noticed him doing something that Charley often did. He would sit very still and look around as if assessing the situation to see what he needed to do. Note to the daughters: No I have not lost it. He really did. I have witnesses.

He almost over performed. I’d give him the hand signal for down and he’d follow that but then add a bunch of tricks on his own. He got laughs. He got applause. He won people over. He helped me cope.

All in all the day went well. Gus was exhausted but worked like a champ. Despite more mood swings than I had during menopause and pregnancies put together, I didn’t end up a blubbering mess. That happened later.

At night my husband found a package on the doorstep and said,  “you’ve got something here from UCLA.” Having no idea what to expect, I tore it open and found this beautiful plaque. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of the gesture and the sentiments behind it that the tears started pouring down my face. They were tears of sadness but also of pride and gratitude.

 

 

 

Dogs Cry Too

 

 

It’s obvious that Elbee and Gus have  been feeling the loss of their big brother. They are both more subdued. Yet each one seems to be grieving in his own way. At least neither one has a pimple like I did.

Elbee was howling in his sleep the other night and has even whimpered a few times. That’s something he’s never done before.

ELBEE But thank goodness I don’t have a pimple.

He was always happy resting on the floor. Now he sleeps in Charley’s spot on the bed with his head on the footboard. Speaking of the bed, he is sometimes prone to stomach problems during the night. When it happened in the past, Charley would always nudge me awake with his paw so that I would let Elbee out. Well last night was one of those nights. Elbee didn’t nudge me but instead did a soft bark (not his usual really loud annoying one) to get me up. It was surprising.

ELBEE I thought this was supposed to be about my grieving, not my personal habits.

He also seems to have become a lot more mellow. I think it’s because, as much as he loved Charley, he now has one less dog to compete with. It’s no secret that Elbee enjoys undivided attention.

ELBEE Has it ever occurred to her that I may be maturing.

Today was the happiest I’ve seen Elbee in weeks. My grandson Ryan, one of his favorite people in the world, slept over and really seemed to cheer him up.

Gus looks sad and a bit lost without Charley. As Charley quietly passed away in the yard, the little guy sat about ten feet away, watching intently and not moving. It was if he understood what was happening. More and more, I notice him sitting very still with that serious look on his face.

As I’ve shared in previous posts, Gus worked several events with Charley so not only was he bonded to him but Charley was his teacher. Together they comforted at the UCLA candlelight vigil. They taught an anti-bullying group from Compton about kindness. They showed unconditional acceptance to children at a special needs camp. At each of these events they would occasionally check in, licking each other on the face.

Gus has picked up some of Charley’s habits. He’s become a little “stalkerish” in a good way and follows me around the house. The other day he even pushed open the bathroom door to find me. Charley, and my kids when they were young, are the only ones who have ever done that.

He also does the “nudge” during the night. Unlike Charley, who did it so I would let Elbee out to throw up, Gus just does it so I’ll wake up and pet him. The poor guy is lonely.

Elbee Really?

As the weeks have gone by, Elbee and Gus have turned to each other more and more. Very rarely will you find either of them alone. This unusual “rug” is the two of them cuddled together for comfort and support.

 

Goodbye My Gentle Giant

 

When Charley was six months old, we were in the waiting room at the vet when a woman walked over and commented on his demeanor, saying that he would be a perfect therapy dog. The very next morning this thoughtful stranger called me with the number for the UCLA People Animal Connection. Little did I know, it was a phone call that would change my life.

Charley was my dog but as we worked together over the years, he became my friend, my partner, oh let’s face it, my soulmate. The daughters referred to him as my “other husband.” He died the same way he lived, with grace, dignity and concern for my well being. He knew that I could never make the decision to let him go so he made it for me.

In early posts I wrote about all of the training and testing, but nothing prepared me for the emotions of walking into the hospital with him for the first time. I confess that I have a basic fear of hospitals and a bit of “white coat syndrome.” Yet when I went into the hospital lobby with that big, beautiful animal by my side, I was at ease.

Charley’s first bed visit was with a patient who had been been hospitalized for quite some time waiting for a heart transplant. She looked so frail in the small bed surrounded by huge equipment. My hands were shaking as I helped Charley step gently onto the bed. As he instinctively cuddled by her side, the woman wrapped her arms around him, started to cry and then to smile, sharing how lonesome she was for her own three dogs.

I watched in wonder as Charley comforted her. Any skepticism I had about how much a dog could accomplish completely disappeared. It was the moment that I became a true believer in the healing power, or maybe magic, of therapy dogs.

Two other patients experiencing “Charley love”

 

Charley became my teacher. That first day in the hospital, he taught me to be brave. Over the more than ten years that we volunteered together, he taught me to focus and be present for the patients, families and staff members who needed us. He taught me about unconditional love.

Charley was a special soul who lived a life of joy and purpose. His kindness, intuition and ability to heal were legendary.  People still talk about the day that a woman who had been catatonic for over a week smiled and petted him. No one who experienced the Charley “lean” or the gentle grip of his big front paw ever forgot it.

At twelve, Charley was slowing down but still seemed to enjoy special events. The night before he passed, he and his mini-me Gus were visiting Bruin athletes at the UCLA Hall of Fame. He was his usual charming self and worked the room like a pro.

 

He seemed restless when we got home, so I spent most of the night sitting with him. In the morning, I left him on the bed while I went to feed the rest of the pack. When I came back upstairs, he wasn’t there. I found him in the yard. He had chosen a quiet spot under some purple flowering bushes to lay down. A half hour later he was gone. His giant heart had stopped beating.

 

 

 

Hearts and Doodles

In last Monday’s post I mentioned that this week I would be writing about the Doods’ purpose. Then Valentines Day came along and I had a change of “heart.”

THE DOODS Is it just us or do Pack Leader’s jokes keep getting lamer. If we knew how, we’d do the eye roll.

A few months ago, UCLA did photo shoots with the dogs in the People Animal Connection for valentine cards. On the holiday, the dogs (and their people) distributed them to patients and staff.

THE DOODS Don’t get us wrong. We appreciate the thought behind it and the fact that they wanted to feature us and our canine colleagues, but do you see these? We’re therapy dogs, not clowns. 

And as if those weren’t bad enough, take a look at this one. Someone is turning into a stage mother. At least we have  proof that she put us into these ridiculous get ups. I wonder if we should contact the lawyer daughter to see if we can sue her for something like embarrassment.

 

Speaking of daughters, Nicole, the middle one and our favorite, got Pack Leader back on track. She told P.L. that she should be writing about our wonderful hearts.

 

 

Okay, enough already. I give up. Let me tell you briefly about the beautiful heart of each Dood.

Charley, the senior Dood, has an intuitive heart. He has always had the gift of being able to sense who needs him the most. He will then gently push himself against them. No one who has experienced the Charley “lean” ever forgets it. It’s like a magical hug.

Elbee is a bit of a show off with the heart of a joker. His antics seem designed to draw attention. His gift is to make everyone laugh and forget their difficult surroundings. If he doesn’t get the crowd reaction he’s going for, he’ll flop into someone’s lap.

Gus, at barely three years old, has a heart of pure sweetness. At work, he cuddles with people and seems to know just when to give someone a soft lick on the cheek. When we adopted him, we were told he was a Teddy Bear Doodle. With his cute dog smile, he truly is like a little, lovable stuffed animal.

My parents, who passed away when I was quite young, had a special way to sign every card and note to each other. At the very end, they would write A.K.A.A.S. My mother even had a charm on her bracelet with those letters.

They stood for “a kiss and a smile.” As I thought about those words on Valentines Day, it suddenly dawned on me that in a certain way they so poignantly summed up the Doods and all of their loving interactions.

 

 

 

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

Who Ya Gonna Call? Stress Busters!

When my cousin and I were in college at Syracuse University, we felt that final exams were the most stressful things that could possibly happen to anyone. When people would tell us to get a grip because those were the best years of our lives, we thought they were insane.

Apparently, Some things never change. Finals week at UCLA is as stressful as ever. But they have a secret weapon to combat the anxiety.

ELBEE Xanax?

CHARLEY Hot yoga?

 

 

 

No it’s not drugs or yoga. It’s therapy dogs! As part of the People Animal Connection, teams of dogs visit Powell Library to help everyone relax. Gus went in with his wingman Tommy, a Bichon, and Pierre a French Bulldog.

Tommy
Gus

 

 

 

 

It was like magic when they walked through the door. The mood in the library immediately shifted from serious and somber to festive. Smiling students and faculty surrounded the dogs, hugging and petting them, taking selfies. There was a lot of laughter. No one was studying. Wait, is that a good thing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gus and Tommy also worked together on Yom Kippur, the day that Donna (Tommy’s person) and I decided that doing a good deed on the holiday outweighed traditional observance. We were a little short on atonement and fasting but very big on comforting people.

As I have shared, we survived the day without mishap. No lightening strikes. No plague. Not even a broken nail. I took that as a positive sign.

THE DOODS Really?!? 

GUS What about me and Tommy? Does anyone realize that we’re both Jewish?

Earlier this year, Gus and Tommy attended a workshop together to get tips on being even better therapy dogs than they already are. Not their finest moment. It wasn’t that they were barking or carrying on. They just couldn’t seem to focus.  They insisted on sitting on the table and were either chatting or falling asleep.

GUS and TOMMY You try sitting there for four hours!

Dogs Do It

I was the soul of discretion in my last post about the Thanksgiving chaos at our house. I left out a whole issue. I’m talking about humping, yes humping.

20160525_091431_1472427293345_resizedELBEE Again with the issues. And why is humping an “issue?”

 

 

Nicole, the middle daughter and the one who actually likes them, opened that door. She shared a photo that lit up Facebook.

THE DOODS We have mixed feelings about this. We admit that we’re partly proud but also just a little embarrassed. Is there no privacy? We’re also confused. Why is Riley so disinterested?

20141230_185755_resizedRILEY Hey, I’m old. I have better things to do…like sleep.

My son-in-law Jay commented that he recalled my “well trained Doodles” humping Nicole and was curious about why I hadn’t included that in my Thanksgiving post. He also wanted to know if they encouraged that sort of behavior in the hospital. Come to think of it, I don’t know UCLA policy on dog humping. I also wonder if this once again puts me out of the running for mother of the year.

20161125_200905_resizedThis is the same son-in-law photo bombing his wife Danielle in this picture, although it could easily be her sister Jennifer. They look a lot alike and feel pretty much the same way about the Doods. Well, Danielle is a little more tolerant although she did say, and I quote, “They were trying to attack me.”

THE DOODS Are you kidding?” Attack” is not in  our vocabulary. To be fair, we may have been trying to hump her.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I did have a major humping episode with Charley during the filming of I Love You Man. Charley was having a diva moment  and was shutting down, tired from all of his “fan” interaction.

The assistant director asked permission to get him fired up. Do you see this photo? That’s what happened. No, we were not dancing.

20161201_144239_resized

CHARLEY Excuse me, but where is the appreciation for getting her on the gag reel?

 

You Did What??

img_1121

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!!

20161027_120218_resized