Each Golden has a Silver Lining

     Emma was the perfect Golden Girl for the therapy work I had planned. We had researched and looked for just the right temperament, personality, and health history. At the breeder’s kennel door, she came forward from all the pups to lay right in our daughter’s lap at our first visit. We knew she was the one.
     A star pupil in obedience class, she quickly advanced to therapy dog training, and we were a registered Delta Team shortly after her first birthday. Pretty amazing for such a young girl, but our Goldens are special that way. They seem eager to get about their work.
     We started slowly, working in nursing homes and assisted living centers, and after two years of work, advanced to the schools and local hospital. The pediatric wing of the hospital is exactly where my goals had been set, and I was so proud of her progress, I didn’t see the next phase coming.
     One evening, we had checked in with the nurses station and received our list for visitation, and noticed one with a little star, which was our cue, this child could really use our special Golden love and care. We visited the other children on our list, some enjoyed Emma’s routine of tricks, some just liked to have her lay on their bed and be read a story.
     We saved our special little friend for last so we could take our time. But, as I entered the room to ask the child if she would like a visitor, Emma froze. I hadn’t anticipated this, I looked at Em and took a small treat out of my pocket, which I didn’t use much anymore, but kept for special rewards. She looked up at me, and looked back at the door, as if to say she was backing out of this one. I knew enough to pay attention to her signals of Enough, but I also knew Emma’s success record with children. What was going on in her little mind I couldn’t imagine. Not wanting to dissapoint the child, I carefully coaxed Emma to the bedside of the small child, who smiled faintly as we came near. As frail and sick as she was, I simply could not put my finger on what was bothering my partner. We completed our visit, and neither the patient nor the nurse who accompanied us, ever knew anything was other than it should be, but I knew, something was terribly wrong with this visit. I should have graciously made an explanation and backed out of the room, which is easier to explain to an adult. Still, I should have paid attention to what my dog was telling me.
     After visiting with our local Helping Paws Therapy group and veterinarian for advice. I gave Emma a good rest. A few weeks later, we picked up our visits, a few at a time, just to see if she was fatigued with her work. Emma bounded into her visits with gusto. We went a few months as if nothing had happened, and I almost had dismissed the incident completely, when the entire procedure repeated itself. This time, it was a very young child with Cancer. I was a little more prepared, however, and since the child was asleep, it was easier to just explain to the nurse, that Emma needed a short break, and we took some outdoor time. This second event started me thinking. After checking on the last little patient we had visited that Emma had reacted to, I found out she had passed away just a few days after our visit with terminal cancer. The second child also, passed away within a week.
     Very discouraged yet curious with Emma’s response to these special cases, I had a lengthy talk with my veterinarian, who shared with me the very keen sense this dog seemed to have. He reminded me, that our dogs live in such a totally different world than we humans do, with their strong sense of smell, and probably other senses we have only vaguely begun to understand. She may have been fully aware of what was happening with this patient, and not willing, not understanding, or just nervous about what was taking place. Maybe she felt she just didn’t need to be there. The key word, I think, is sensitive, so much more in tune than we can comprehend.
     As amazed as I was with Emma’s acute sense, now, how should I proceed with our hospital visits? Did I have the right dog for this work after all? I was beginning to question. I was just going to have to trust her, and pay close attention to her responses, then decide if Hospital work was really for her. We rested again for a couple of weeks, and then went anxiously back to work.
     Emma and I were back in our routine and doing just splendidly. One afternoon, I came to a room that was on our list, but the door was slightly closed, lights off, a woman, I could see, was sitting on the bed with the child. We quietly walked past with the intention of checking in later. We hadn’t gotten far, when I heard the quiet voice of the mother asking us to come back and see her little girl. This child, also, had a little star by her name. I was becoming a little tense, and was hoping Emma was not picking up on that, as we entered the darkened room. I was anticipating that stall and look from Emma, preparing my response . . . but it didn’t come. Emma proceeded with no hesitation to the tiny figure propped up with pillows and sheets. As nervous as I felt, I could in no way misinterpret Emma’s response to this child. She knew exactly where she was going and what she needed to do.
     The child’s mother asked me, if the dog could get on the bed with her little girl. She explained the nature of the illness briefly, and her concern that her daughter had always loved animals and could never have one because she had been so ill all of her life. I looked to the nurse, and she shook her head yes. Emma knew the routine well, we put her little pink and blue blanket on the bed by the girl, I carry a little rubber mat to put under Emma’s feet so she doesn’t slip on the tile floor, and putting my hand on the blanket, instruct her, “Easy up” and very gently, as if crawling onto a bed of baby chicks, one foot at a time, Emma eases herself to the side of the child. There is a point in Therapy Work, I am truly convinced, that you know without a doubt, The Miracle has happened. The magic for which this dog was created is taking place before your very eyes, and no one else in the room matters, but the patient and the dog.
     I had told the little girl, the dog’s name, and from then on, I did not exist to her. She gently started stroking Emma with her little hand, calling her name ever so softly, taking the brush and brushing her ears. They must have talked for an hour, the little girl never speaking in more than a whisper, and I’m convinced she understood Emma’s reply. We were there much longer than we ever stay for our total visits. There was no timeline today, something much more important was in control. The mother was in tears, the nurse was in tears, and I was trying so hard , but yes, there were tears in my eyes as well. Finally, I looked at the mother, and she nodded toward me, as if that might be enough. I put my hand on Emma’s back, and assured the little girl we would return each week to see her, that she and Emma were now good friends. Her mother said we had made her little girl’s dream come true. We returned as promised the following week, but the little girl was not able to stay.
     My questions about Emma were gone. Patience, purpose and plan had been demonstrated to me. I suddenly was aware of Emma’s special gift. My human-ness was expecting her to do it all. She was sent with a very special talent, as I feel sure all of our Golden Angels are, A Silver Lining. She knew her gift, and is teaching me day by day, to pay attention and follow her lead. Emma is in her 6th year of Therapy Dog work. She has been asked to be a part of a Foundation for Lost Children, working with their counseling team, she has been asked to participate in State research work for pain management with children, and we are now registered with Therapy Dog International as well as Delta Society. There will soon come a time she will tell me it’s time to rest, and just give our therapy to one another. I will watch and pay attention to her signal. Therapy Work is indeed a team effort, and though we may never know exactly what Emma was telling us about the first two visits she was hesitant about; did she sense the nearness of death, did she smell the cancer, was there an odor to the process of chemotherapy she was alerted to?, the one thing I do know, is that what matters are the miracles that happen on the way. Just pay attention, your Golden Angel is one of the best teachers sent to us, each has a special purpose, a gift, a love to share, unique to any other. And as a Golden mom, I believe, it is a relationship of love that is eternal. “The Lord G-d Made Them All”


Entry written by Teresa Robinson of   Bentonville, AR
* Second Place Award Recipient

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