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.

 

 

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 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!